(Kathleen Saylors/Grand Forks Gazette)

(Kathleen Saylors/Grand Forks Gazette)

Guest in the Spotlight: Become an agent for change in the pro-rep referendum

Dave Milton argue in favour of proportional representation.

Very soon, dear reader, you will be asked – by mail-in referendum – whether or not you care enough about democracy to change our voting system so as to fundamentally reform the way you are governed. Of course you care. Governance affects everything around us and, until now, has been decided by the political party with the majority of the seats in the Legislature, regardless of whether or not they represent the majority of voters. Doug Ford’s party, in Ontario, for example, won the most seats and a clear majority, despite garnering only 40 per cent of the popular vote. It’s worse in Quebec where the new government has only 36 per cent of the popular vote. By any measure these are patently unfair results and torpedo the very notion of “the will of the people.”

John Adams, in his Thoughts on Government wrote: “It should be in miniature, an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them. That it may be the interest of this Assembly to do strict justice at all times, it should be an equal representation, or in other words equal interest among the people it should have equal interest in it.”

He wrote that in 1776 during the American Revolution, yet here we are, almost two and a half centuries later, still wallowing in a first-past-the-post junket that, in all too many cases, is an affront to democracy and our notions of fairness. As practiced here, FPTP – first-past-the-post – rewards a particularly like-minded group with a specific agenda, to hold sway over the whole population for the duration of its mandate – usually four years. The next party elected in such manner spends much of its mandate undoing the policies of the previous bunch. This is not good management of the common good and has brought about a mistrust of politicians, a polarisation of opinions and a general apathy about voting. You will have noticed how such polarisation is become more strident on the margins.

Just consider that more people abstain from the civic duty than avail themselves of it. We have ourselves to blame that it is no longer considered a privilege or civic obligation; much of governance is driven by special interest groups rather than the people. You can set us on the road to change by participating in the pending Proportional Representation Referendum. With pro-rep, 95.9 per cent of voters in Sweden are represented. In Denmark its 99.1 per cent, while in New Zealand 93.8 per cent of voters have representation. In B.C., on the other hand (and even with two parties currently sharing the load), only 50.7 per cent of voters are represented. The more-or-less half of the population who voted for the other guys are out in the cold. It’s dead wrong and high time governance is shared so as to govern by consensus rather than driven by dogma.

It is time for a change and your vote can bring it about. You won’t be lonely as there many countries around the planet – close to 90 of them, according to Wikipedia – that use some form of proportional representation. Apathy is no way to govern the second-largest geo-political entity on the planet. It’s time that the most destructive species on Earth is called to account. We have lost our grip on what social responsibility actually means and infers. If you want your say in how you wish our space to be governed, and why your opinions matter in such governance, this is your chance. Ignoring it, yet griping about societal ills, won’t cut it.

The first question on your ballot is this important one: Do you want change or don’t you? Remember the old adage that when you leave prisoners in chains for long enough they get comfortable in them. Freedom is dangerous because it means choices, so use this freedom (to choose) very wisely. Don’t sweat the second question. (You don’t even have to answer it; it won’t alter your opinion on the first).

Types of proportional representation are manifold, worldwide, and it will take some time for us to weigh what they mean and which is best for us. It’s a sad reflection that we have let government slip so far from our hands, that we’ll have to swat to find out what it’s all about. And the beauty of this referendum is that if, after the two subsequent elections, we don’t like what we have wrought, we may revert to the old one.

For a brief moment in time don’t think about pestilence and famine, drought and poverty, old age and university entry. Make your mark for change and determine to become a constructive agent of such change. Democracy is counting on you to do the right thing. What a wonderful way for our youngsters who are become of age to cast their very first vote!

Grand Forks Gazette