A pro proportional representation sign in Revelstoke, B.C. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

The proportional representation debate continues as the deadline nears

Sean Graham creator of the Dual Member Proportional system says it would be better for Revelstoke

The creator of new voting system on referendum ballot says his concept is best for rural areas, such as Revelstoke.

B.C. is having a referendum on what voting system to use for future provincial elections. The referendum is being held by mail from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30, 2018.

Systems on the ballot are: First Past the Post (FPTP), Dual Member Proportional (DMP), Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), and Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP). The last three choices, are different systems of proportional representation.

For First Past the Post, which is B.C’s current system, each electoral district has one MLA. Compared to proportional representation systems, where voters normally elect and are represented by more than one MLA in their district or region.

In 2013, Sean Graham, a student at the University of Alberta, created Dual Member Proportional. He was 21.

“I had been interested in the topic of electoral reform since the time I started voting,” says Graham.

Graham is from Fort McMurray. He says he wanted to create a system that gave a stronger voice in terms of proportional representation to rural areas.

READ MORE: Here are the descriptions of the voting systems according to Elections BC

“The systems that had already been proposed, focused on giving good quality proportional representation to large urban centres, while giving rural areas a lower quality version of proportional representation.”

“From a democratic perspective, everyone should be brought on board with the reform. Regardless of whether they live in a large city or small town,” continued Graham.

According to Graham the innovative piece of Dual Member Proportional is that it breaks away from other systems by not linking ballot and region size.

“All other systems would be applied on a regional basis. Dual Member Proportional would not. The entire province would be under one holistic system. The reason that is possible, is the ballot is only comprised of local candidates.”

As a result, party share votes match seat shares. Because of that decoupling according to Graham, there is no need to keep regions on a smaller scale.

“It gives rural voters the same opportunities as an urban voter,” says Graham.

However, the riding for Revelstoke would most likely increase in size and have two MLAs instead of one.

Dual Member Proportional has never been in use. It was on the ballot for PEI in 2016, but didn’t pass. It’s the first Canadian developed voting system to go to public vote.

The 2018 electoral reform referendum in B.C. is different than the last two in 2005 and 2009, both of which did not reach the thresholds required for change, which was 60 per cent in favour. In the past, there were only two options: First Past the Post and Single Transferable Vote (STV). Single Transferable Vote is not on the ballot this time around.

For this election, only 50 per cent plus one is required for a voting system change.

Graham says this referendum is important because it’s making sure everyone’s democratic rights are respected and all votes have a meaningful effect on the outcome of an election.

“In First Past the Post, a district can have upwards of 70 per cent of its voters not have a meaningful affect on the outcome of the election.”

Funnily enough, even though Graham invented the system he will not be able to vote for it.

“It would certainly be nice to be able to be apart of it. I’m very honoured to see that it’s been seen as a system that addresses a lot of concerns that people have with moving to proportional representation,” says Graham.

The debate

As of Nov. 13, only 5.3 per cent of eligible voters have voted.

READ MORE: Lack of public response threatens B.C. referendum credibility

Fair Vote Canada, an advocate for proportional representation says it isn’t concerned that voter turnout is low.

“Voter turnout in municipal elections is much lower than 50 per cent. And we still consider the results legitimate regardless. We don’t put a threshold on how many people need to turnout for municipal, provincial, or federal elections. We shouldn’t be doing that for a referendum,” says Kieth Poore, a spokesperson from Fair Vote Canada.

By comparison, No Proportional Representation BC says they are concerned about the low turnout.

“This isn’t about who wins an election. This is about changing the rules for future elections. Indefinitely. It would be really problematic that a decision to change the system was made with a small fraction of voters. That would question the legitimacy of the whole exercise,” says Bill Tieleman, president of No Proportional Representation BC.

READ MORE: John Horgan, Andrew Wilkinson square off on B.C. voting referendum

Some concerns voiced during this referendum is the difficulty in understanding the various systems of proportional representation.

“It is very confusing. There isn’t one voter in B.C. that knows what riding they would be in after the referendum if a new system is adopted,” says Tieleman.

None of the new systems proposed are completely fleshed out and important information is missing, such as new riding boundaries and how each system would operate. In the 2009 referendum, proposed new riding maps were provided for proportional representation, so voters could make an informed decision. None have been provided for this vote.

“We’re comparing apples to oranges and cherries. And you can’t even see all of those other systems. So it’s not fair to voters to ask them to make a decision, not just conceptually, but practically,” says Tieleman.

If passed, the finer details of proportional representation will be decided by the B.C. government says Tieleman.

“The party in power and their allies are going to make all of these decisions after the referendum. And that’s completely wrong. I’m a proud NDP, but I’m opposed to any party in power anywhere deciding the major details of the electoral system. It should be up to the voters.”

Tieleman says First Past the Post is simple, stable and successful.

“Proportional representation is complicated, confusing, and leads to perpetual minority governments.”

Is this referendum confusing?

No.

At least according to Fair Vote Canada. And they say it’s insulting to British Columbians to suggest it is.

“I think we’re just as brilliant as people in other countries that have proportional representation. I think the argument that it’s too complicated, is too narrow and simple minded,” says Poore.

Regardless, this vote is extremely important. Perhaps even more than the recent municipal election.

“Governments of all stripes, they can change. Things can be undone and changed after the fact. And governments can be thrown out of office if they screw up. But when you change the rules, it really makes the entire game different,” says Tieleman.

Voting packages need to be received by the chief electoral officer by mail by Nov. 30 or dropped off at Service BC. Packages were sent to registered voters by mail. If you did not receive one you can request one online or in person at a Service BC office.

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