GUEST COLUMN: Proportional representation curbs extremist movements

Pioneer of B.C. electoral reform argues for yes vote in referendum

Nick Loenen is a former Social Credit MLA for Richmond. (Contributed)

Nick Loenen is a former Social Credit MLA for Richmond. (Contributed)

By Nick Loenen

I will vote in favour of proportional representation (Pro Rep) in the referendum on electoral reform this fall, because Pro Rep is more effective at keeping extremists from government than the existing voting system.

In Canada, we’ve avoided extremists in government not because of strong institutional safeguards, but rather because Canadians themselves have largely shunned extremists. Now that is changing. Today, all around the world, extremism is on the rise. That’s why now is the time to strengthen our institutions.

Pro Rep is an opportunity to take pre-emptive action, lest a Donald Trump or Doug Ford take power in Victoria. Don’t think it can’t happen here: in B.C., we have exactly the same system that elected these two extremists. Trump won control of the executive branch of the U.S. government even though the majority of US voters—54 per cent—did not vote for him.

In Ontario, Ford’s Conservatives gained control of government by increasing their vote-share seven per cent, but incredibly, received 46 per cent more seats. It is our system that produces wild swings in government like this.

Gordon Gibson: B.C.’s referendum vote is dishonest, misleading

The weakness of B.C.’s status quo voting system is two-fold: only some votes count and governments get elected with a minority of the vote. Under Pro Rep, all votes count and governments get elected on legitimate majorities. Under Pro Rep, neither Trump nor Ford would ever have a chance to form a government. Changing our voting system to Pro Rep almost guarantees that no extremists will come to power. If you are apprehensive of the likes of Trump and Ford, vote in favour of Pro Rep to make our voting system more robustly democratic, and keep extremists far from the levers of power.

B.C.’s referendum proposal has built-in mechanisms to keep extremist and fringe parties from gaining control. Parties must win a minimum of five per cent of the popular vote to win seats in the BC Legislature. Even then, winning seats in parliament is not the same as controlling or influencing government.

In recent years, European far-right parties have increased their vote-share and gained more seats. But significantly, and with few exceptions, extremists have not gained influence on government. The most recent example is Sweden, where a far-right party increased its seats, but still has no part in government.

In his landmark study of 22 democracies, Arendt Lijphart, the world’s foremost scholar of voting systems, tested the effectiveness of small parties and concluded that in nearly all instances, parties have influence commensurate with their numerical strength and no more. Our own experience in B.C.’s current coalition government bears that out.

Under Pro Rep, all significant political interests and diversities exert pressure on the tiller of the ship of state in proportion to their numerical strength. In contrast, under the current voting system, the captain, elected on a minority of the vote, takes over the helm and orders everyone else off the bridge.

Everywhere democracy is in retreat. Fuelled by fears, people look for strong leadership. But what is strong leadership? I will vote for strong leadership based on inclusion, consensus, cooperation. The best guarantee against abuse of government power is to share that power among the many, rather than the few.

Nick Loenen is a former Richmond councillor and Social Credit MLA, co-founder of Fair Voting BC and author of the 1997 book Citizenship and Democracy, a case for proportional representation.

BC legislatureProportional representation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
41 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

The North Country Inn and Restaurant in Vanderhoof notified the public Friday morning of a positive, COVID-19 case for one of its workers. (Facebook photo)
North Country Inn and Restaurant employee tests positive for COVID-19

The North Country Inn and Restaurant said the employee had not been in contact with its patrons

Cases have gone up in Northern Health in the past week, as they have all over B.C. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
Northern Health reports new highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day

Nineteen cases were reported to Public Health last Tuesday (Nov. 17)

FILE – British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Masks now mandatory in all public indoor and retail spaces in B.C.

Many retailers and businesses had voiced their frustration with a lack of mask mandate before

(Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared Thursday.
COVID-19 outbreak at LNG Canada Project site

14 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at this time

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

(Pixabay.com)
Man, 28, warned by Kootenay police to stop asking people to marry him

A woman initially reported the incident to police before they discovered others had been popped the question

Winston Blackmore (left) and James Oler (right) were sentenced on separate charges of polygamy this week in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
No more charges expected in Bountiful investigation, special prosecutor says

Special prosecutor says mandate has ended following review of evidence from Bountiful investigations

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

BC Teachers' Federation President Teri Mooring is asking parents of school-aged children to encourage the wearing of masks when possible in schools. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
LETTER: Teachers union encourages culture of mask wearing in B.C. schools

BCTF President Teri Mooring asks parents to talk with children about wearing masks in school

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Pamela Wright, a UNBC professor in the department of ecosystem science and management, is presented with the Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership - Professor, at a virtual ceremony today (Nov. 24) in recognition of her collaborative work with community partners and students to conserve Canada’s northern lands. (Photo submitted by Mitacs)
UNBC professor recieves prestigeous conservation award

Pamela Wright recognized for leadership in ‘breakthrough’ work on northern issues

Pamela Wright, a UNBC professor in the department of ecosystem science and management, is presented with the Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership - Professor, at a virtual ceremony today (Nov. 24) in recognition of her collaborative work with community partners and students to conserve Canada’s northern lands. (Photo submitted by Mitacs)
UNBC professor receives prestigious conservation award

Pamela Wright recognized for leadership in ‘breakthrough’ work on northern issues

Most Read