The B.C. government has introduced legislation to hold a referendum in the fall of 2018. The referendum will ask British Columbians to decide whether B.C. should keep its current voting system (first past the post) or move to a system of proportional representation. (Black Press file photo)

John Rustad weighs in on electoral reform in B.C.

“Proportional representation is not the answer,” he says

MLA for Nechako Lakes John Rustad has recently expressed strong opposition to changing the electoral system in B.C.

The B.C. government has introduced legislation to hold a referendum in the fall of 2018. The referendum will ask British Columbians to decide whether B.C. should keep its current voting system (first past the post) or move to a system of proportional representation.

Rustad says small communities would have a hard time electing representatives under a proportional representation system.

“Under proportional representation, you no longer elect an MLA, you only vote for a party,” he said. “You no longer have an MLA fighting for individuals or a riding; you can’t hold your MLA accountable for their actions.”

“Political parties will create lists of candidates,” he continued. “People get elected from those lists based on the percentage of vote that political party receives; the general public gets no say in who is on those lists or whether they would like them to be an MLA.”

“This is not an improvement on democracy,” he added. “I hope people will engage and take a serious look at proportional representation before making a decision that will leave B.C. in a vulnerable position for years to come.”

“If this [system] changes, it will change forever.”

Unlike the past two province-wide votes on the issue, this referendum is to be decided by a simple majority of all participating voters, without requiring support from a majority of constituencies.

Without regional support, the referendum will likely be decided by the southwest corner of the province, where three quarters of the population resides. Metro Vancouver alone is home to more than half of B.C.’s 4.6 million people.

Rustad says he wonders what issues the proposed electoral reform is trying to address in the first place.

“British Columbia is one of the best jurisdictions in the world,” he said. “We got some of the highest environmental standards, we’re the envy of the world economically, we’ve got a good social system, one of the best education systems in the country, and one of the best health care systems in the country. So what is it that they are trying to fix?”

Meanwhile the B.C. NDP-Green government is pressing ahead with its plan to change the voting system in time for the next provincial election. Premier John Horgan has promised that rural representation will be protected in a new system, but that has yet to be defined.

“We have deviations in our seat sizes in terms of population that are completely out of whack with other jurisdictions in Canada,” Horgan told Black Press. “So I’m not surprised that there is concern that we take every step to preserve rural representation. It’s fundamental to British Columbians, and I’m committed to make sure that happens.”

“But I’m not going to shy away from the need to change a system that fundamentally gives 100 per cent power to less than 50 per cent of the voters.”

British Columbians are being asked to complete an online questionnaire to help shape key elements of the referendum, including ballot design, choice of voting systems included, and public funding distribution during the referendum campaign period. The engagement closes Feb. 28, 2018.

To complete the online questionnaire, visit https://engage.gov.bc.ca/howwevote/

– With files from Tom Fletcher

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