British Columbia

'It's a bad system': unlikely political allies fight proportional representation

Former political opponents and a public servant have found common cause: they oppose any change to B.C.'s voting system and want the province to keep the old first-past-the-post system.

Tieleman, Anton and Plecas to be official 'no' voice and make case for first-past-the-post

Former B.C. Liberal attorney general Suzanne Anton, former B.C. NDP strategist Bill Tieleman and former deputy minister Bob Plecas want to be the official voice of the "no" side in this autumn's proportional representation referendum in B.C. (CBC)

A former B.C. NDP strategist, a former B.C. Liberal MLA and a former B.C. public servant walk into a bar.

Actually, they didn't walk into a bar, but they are working together to fight proportional representation in B.C. — and that's no joke.

Bill Tieleman, Suzanne Anton and Bob Plecas announced Wednesday they would join together to form a group, the No B.C. Proportional Representation Society, to campaign for the "no" side in the upcoming referendum on switching B.C.'s voting system.

That referendum will ask British Columbians if they want to drop the current first-past-the-post electoral system in favour of some form of proportional representation, where the number of seats in the legislature more closely matches the percentage of votes each party receives.

Tieleman, Anton and Plecas want their group to become the official proponent for the "no" side of the issue, which, according to the Electoral Reform Referendum Act 2018, could entitle them to public funds to make their case.

Hurts accountability

All three said in a statement that a switch to proportional representation would empower party bosses and make government less accountable.

They also said a proportional representation could hurt rural voters and allow extremist parties to rise.

"It's a bad system. It's a system that really doesn't work in many, many places it's been used," Tieleman told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

"[First past the post] is a system that has served British Columbia very, very well. We've had stable governments, we've had great economic growth and it provides local, accountable representation."

Anton said it's telling the federal Liberals abandoned a plan to adopt proportional representation.

"Right now we've got an easy system. It's very easy to understand," she said. "What works well is a stable parliamentary democracy that we have in Canada, that we have in British Columbia. ... There is no reason to mess with our electoral system."

Listen to the full interview with Bill Tieleman and Suzanne Anton:

Greens back referendum

Premier John Horgan's NDP government pledged to hold the referendum in an October announcement but his office declined to comment for this story.

The B.C. Green Party is strongly in favour of the referendum and made holding it a condition of its alliance with Horgan's government.

Deputy Green leader Sonia Furstenau said she wasn't surprised the "no" group consisted of members of the "established" parties.

"We've heard loud and clear during the election campaign and since the election that people want to see electoral reform in B.C.,"  Furstenau said.

"They want to see a much more fair system that truly reflects the intentions of the voters and moves us away from a system where people have to vote against what they don't want instead of for what they do want."

Furstenau dismissed concerns of rising extremism raised by the "no" group, saying B.C.'s political climate lacks those voices.

Maria Dobrinskaya of the Broadbent Institute, which will advocate in favour of political representation, says the current system is "broken."

"Yes" proponents say the current voting system is leading to low voter engagement and poor representation. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

"How disengaged the electorate is, and how people feel sidelined from politics," Dobrinskaya said.

She accused the "no" group of "misinformation" and "fear mongering."

For instance, she said, a proportional representation system could include local representation which would be valuable for rural voters.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast


Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.