Under their recent agreement, the BC NDP and Greens have promised a referendum on electoral reform. But if we want to see a yes vote, we need to proceed thoughtfully.
In my latest post on Policy Note, I highlight some insights from BC’s previous attempt at reform in 2005 (in which a clear majority voted for change – but not enough to meet the government’s arbitrary threshold for proceeding of 60% approval) and from Ontario’s similar experience in 2007, among other reform attempts. These can be boiled down into four key lessons:
1. Keep the design of a new voting system out of politicians’ hands. According to an analysis of voter attitudes during the BC and Ontario referenda, a proposal designed behind closed doors won’t fly with voters. While the desire to move quickly is understandable, a robust and legitimate process for choosing an alternative system—such as entrusting the design to a BC Citizen’s Assembly, or another similarly credible and independent process—is crucial.
2. Provide resources for extensive public education and debate on reform. The above-mentioned analysis also showed that the more voters knew about electoral reform, the more likely they were to support it.
3. Demonstrate the merits of minority and coalition governments. The new government will certainly need to provide a positive demonstration of how well minorities can work in practice, if they want to increase the likelihood of a “yes” vote.
4. Avoid electoral reform duds. Not all systems are created equal, and we already have some idea of what voters wouldn’t support. The system put forward should be one that’s transparent and that empowers voters—one that British Columbians can get behind.
A lot of things will need to go right for BC to finally ditch our outdated first-past-the-post electoral system and deepen democracy in this province. Let’s do this right. You can read my full post here. You can also click here to share it on Twitter or here to share on Facebook.
P.S. I also recommend you check out research associate Keith Reynolds’ recent commentary calling for the Premier to put a moratorium on document destruction during this period of transition, my colleague Marc Lee’s submission to the National Energy Board about the climate impacts of the proposed Energy East Pipeline, and Peter Prontzos’ review of a recently released book that lays out the effects of widespread inequality.