British Columbia's democracy is in poor condition and a new voting system is just what the doctor ordered.
That's the message from a coalition of academics, activists, business people and progressive politicians — and one former Conservative Party of Canada organizer — who hope to be the official voice of the "yes" vote in the upcoming referendum on electoral reform in B.C.
"What we're seeing is increasing voter disaffection, lower voter turnout," said former NDP MP Jean Crowder, spokeswoman for the Yes B.C. Proportional Representation Society.
"I think the way the system is set up now has people just so turned off that they don't even engage."
Crowder says the first-past-the-post electoral system used throughout Canada has people feeling like they've wasted their votes if their candidate or party of choice isn't elected.
She says switching to a proportional representation system, where voters elect representatives in proportion to the way they voted, would satisfy some dissatisfied electors.
Not advocating one system
At a Thursday launch event, the society revealed they weren't advocating for any particular type of proportional representation system.
Perhaps fittingly, they want to leave the exact system up to the voters.
They are recommending the government provide three options for voters in the referendum, and not just ask them to keep first-past-the-post or switch to another system.
"The systems that we've listed are in countries that either have similar values or a democracy we admire," Crowder said.
The systems the society put forward are:
- Regional List Proportional Representation, as used in Norway, Denmark and Sweden
- Mixed Member Proportional Representation, as used in New Zealand, Germany, Scotland and Wales
- Single Transferable Vote, as used in the Republic of Ireland and some Australian elections.
Single Transferable Vote, or STV, was rejected twice by B.C. voters in 2005 and 2009.
'No' group raises concerns
Two weeks ago, an unlikely "no" coalition formed to advocate keeping the first-past-the-post system.
Former NDP strategist Bill Tieleman, former B.C. Liberal minister Suzanne Anton and former civil servant Bob Plecas said they opposed the switch because proportional representation would give too much power to party bosses and allow extremist parties a foothold in the legislature.
Crowder dismissed their first warning with a laugh.
"I come from a federal system where we were frequently accused of being 'whipped' to vote," she said.
"If that isn't huge amounts of power to party leaders and executives, I don't know what is. And that's under a first-past-the-post system."
She added that in proportional representation systems a party needs to meet a threshold of support, so most extremist, fringe parties aren't able to get elected.
Elections BC says it will mail ballots to all registered voters in the fall. The referendum is scheduled to be completed before the end of November.