During the last provincial election in British Columbia, voters in the Vancouver-Fraserview riding decided they had enough of BC Liberal MLA Suzanne Anton and voted her out.
In Surrey-Fleetwood, voters did the same thing to Peter Fassbender.
But under a mixed member proportional representation-style electoral system, senior cabinet ministers like Anton and Fassbender would likely have seats in the Legislative Assembly in Victoria for life, regardless of what voters think of them.
|The deadline for Elections BC to received the referendum on electoral reform is Nov. 30. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)
Marks is a German immigrant to Canada who has lived under governments elected under proportional representation and he has a warning for British Columbians: Don’t do it.
“It’s so complicated in Germany to get somebody out of parliament,” Marks said in an interview. “The last election, for example, here in B.C. Peter Fassbender and Suzanne Anton were all sent home. That would never happen in Germany because they would always be on the safe party list.”
Germany’s version of proportional representation (PR) is similar to one of the three options on the current 2018 referendum on electoral reform ballot, namely mixed member PR. In that system, voters choose which candidate they like in their particular riding and those candidates fill up half of parliament in a first past the post style vote.
Then the popular vote is tallied and the rest of parliament is filled to match the percentages with members chosen from party lists.
The benefit of PR, proponents argue, is there are no wasted votes. If a party receives 44 per cent of the popular vote they can’t get 100 per cent of the power, they get 44 per cent of the seats.
“In theory that is 100 per cent fair and it makes sense,” Marks says. “But in practical terms you will see that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the same guys are still sitting in Parliament. The leaders are always the same guys.”
The top group of party elites, such as Anton and Fassbender, would almost certainly be atop the BC Liberal list so they would have been re-elected despite losing races in their respective ridings.
In Germany, Marks says there are people who have been in parliament for 30 years despite never having directly won a mandate from voters.
“That drives normal people like me and you somewhat crazy,” he says.
Marks also doesn’t disagree with the criticism that PR can give a voice to extremist parties. This has been criticized by many as fear-mongering, but Marks says in the last seven years radicals with anti-immigration policies earned enough votes to win seats, and they have risen to hold close to 20 per cent of the seats.
“Adolf Hitler came into parliament in a proportional representation system. He was voted in.”
This comparison along with the current rise of far right parties in Europe in various countries such as Sweden is part of the fear-mongering some say is coming from the “no” side. University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) political science professor Hamish Telford said the rise of extreme parties in Europe doesn’t have anything to do with PR.
“When we look at those places the problem isn’t proportional representation, the problem is that in Sweden one in five people voted for a fascist party,” he said.
But Marks figures that you can find 10 to 15 per cent of any large group of people are attracted to radical ideas, and giving them a proportional number of elected seats only draws attention to dangerous fringe ideas.
He uses soccer hooliganism as a metaphor: “Ten to 15 per cent of every stadium are radical. You go into a stadium, where is the camera pointed? Where there are 20 idiots who are fighting. In a PR system, they would right away have a platform where they could build on.”
He gives Maxine Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada as an example of this, paralleling the anti-immigration parties in Europe. Bernier’s main focus has been on criticizing immigration in Canada, and if the country had a PR system, Bernier would be in Parliament, Marks figures.
“At the end of the day, the voter is losing his power,” he says. “At the moment he can still send somebody home. In PR, you send nobody home. Only the party will send them home.”
For political science professor Hamish Telford, much of the rhetoric from the “no” side is based on misinformation and exaggeration about how it would change things.
“German voters and New Zealand voters seem quite comfortable with PR,” Telford said in an interview last month, adding that PR does seem to be more fair.
“When we are talking about proportionality, we are not talking about a simple technical matter. We are talking about some fundamental democratic principles. The first principle is that the party that gets the most votes, should get the most seats.”
What many people seem to agree is the flawed nature of how the referendum was implemented, and how fractious and partisan it has become with the NDP on the “yes” side and the BC Liberals on the “no” side.
And what also seems at least partly true is that the BC Liberals opposed to PR are using scare tactics, while really what’s on the line is their own political lives.
“What the Liberals really fear is a splintering of their famed coalition between two distinct parties,” Telford said.
As for Marks, while he has had Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness speak at his group’s events, he insists he has nothing to do with the BC Liberals and that he is non-partisan in this debate.
“I’m not involved in any political party here in B.C.,” he says.
The deadline for Elections BC to received referendum ballots is Nov. 30.