Why BC's proportional representation referendum matters for our environment—and how you can help

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Posted in:  Wildsight

British Columbians have a choice this November: vote to change our electoral system so that our legislature better represents our interests or stick with our first-past-the-post system. Here at Wildsight, we know that British Columbians value their environment, wildlife and wild places, but our governments have rarely made protecting our environment a priority. Governments that better represent British Columbians will be better for our environment, so Wildsight strongly supports proportional representation for BC—we hope our supporters will join us in voting yes in this referendum.

And if you want to help make proportional representation a reality in BC—for our environment and for so many other reasons—please join us in our efforts to encourage Wildsight supporters to vote. But more on that below, let’s talk about why proportional representation matters for our environment and what exactly we’ll be voting on this November.

Why proportional representation will be better for our environment

First-past-the-post voting systems tend to result in polarized politics. Just look east to Ontario at Doug Ford or even south of the border. And those polarized governments, many of whom have cheerfully destroyed our wild places, are often elected with about 40% of the vote (in Canada, that’s sadly normal). Under a proportional voting system, 40% of the vote will only get you 40% of the power, instead of 100%.

And what’s worse is that even when we do elect governments that talk the environmental talk, they don’t tend to walk the environmental walk. Why not? Because politicians are always looking to the next election and that means focusing on those few voters who can be persuaded to switch parties. For those few swing voters, the environment isn’t a strong priority, so even politicians who really do care about our environment find themselves focusing on other issues. That’s the sad reality of how the political sausage is made under first-past-the-post and why we end up struggling to protect our wild places, no matter which party is in power.

With a proportional representation voting system, we have a much greater likelihood of ending up with minority governments, where no one party holds all the power. Is that a bad thing? Not at all. When minority governments are common, our MLAs will have no choice but to learn to work together (as they have in so many other countries). Cooperation is much more likely to lead to better environmental outcomes than partisan politics. Just look at climate champion Sweden, who started to use proportional representation more than a hundred years ago. How about almost all of the rest of Europe, where votes are cast under a variety of proportional systems?

It’s simple. Poll after poll shows that British Columbians want governments that are better for our environment. A strong majority of us vote for parties that talk the environmental talk. If our government truly represented us, our environment would be in a lot better shape. And the way we’ll get governments that represent us and our interests is by fixing our voting system.

What are we voting on?

Ballots are arriving in the mail in late October and must be back in Victoria by the end of November to be counted. The referendum question has two parts: 1) Should we switch to a proportional system? and 2) Which of three proportional systems proposed should we choose? All three systems have their upsides and downsides, but they are all fairly similar and much better than first-past-the-post.

Want to know more? Here’s a good short video explainer on proportional representations and the three systems that you can vote for in part two: the serious version or the fun version. FairVoteBC’s FAQs and mythbusters cover many key questions and FairVote Canada’s page on the published research linking environmental outcomes to proportional representation has the technical details. Take this survey to see which proportional representation system aligns with your values. It’s a bit long but the results may be revealing. 

Elections BC has an overview of the voting systems.

If that’s a lot to think about, you don’t even have to answer the second questions about which proportional voting system you prefer. You can cast your vote to change our voting system to be more proportional and leave it at that.

And if you’re on the fence and aren’t sure if you should vote for proportional representation, here’s a key fact that may make it easier to vote for change: if BC votes to change to a proportional system, we are already committed to a second referendum after two elections to review the change. Let’s try it out! If you don’t like proportional representation after two elections, you’ll have a chance to vote for us to go back to the system we have now.

How can you help?

The reality is that voter turnout with a mail-in ballot is generally low, so changing our electoral system is going to depend on making sure that proportional representation supporters vote. Polling shows proportional representation supporters and opponents are fairly evenly split, with many undecided voters. But many are worried that people under 55, who are more likely to vote yes, are less likely to vote by mail-in ballot. This could lead the no side to victory, based on which demographics vote, rather than what British Columbians want. That’s where you come in: please join our phone team to call Wildsight supporters and encourage them to vote.

If you aren’t the phone type, you can encourage Wildsight supporters to vote by texting. It’s all easy with our online system. It’s part of a get out the vote effort from the environmental community across BC. Get in touch and join the Wildsight team today!

What else can you do to help? Write a letter to the editor (get in touch for an email list). Show your pro rep support with a lawn sign from our friends at FairVote BC (just email us).

So please, get in touch with us today to let us know what you’ll do to fix our elections. Join our calling team and make sure as many British Columbians as possible vote before November 30th. If you can only take one action for our environment this year, make it this one. Our future depends on it.

 

Authorized by Wildsight, registered sponsor under the Election Act, 250 427 9325