Marco Zenone: A youth perspective on proportional representation

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      By Marco Zenone

      My Experience with First Past the Post

      I have voted in one provincial election (2017) since becoming of legal age. I was ecstatic to vote and be engaged in the democratic process—this was a major milestone. I had completed significant research on the platforms of the major parties and was confident in my voting decision. 

      On voting day the party I supported received 332,387 votes—or a total of 16.84 percent of the popular vote. It won three seats out of a possible 87. This was the most successful election of this party in the history of its existence.

      Although I was happy to see this success, it was disconcerting that although 16.84 percent of British Columbians voted for this party, it only had about three percent of the legislative voting power. It was more concerning for me that the closest representative I felt I could contact was 147 kilometres away from where I live.

      Regardless of your political orientation, this should concern you and is a major flaw of the current first-past-the-post electoral system.

      Our previous three governments from 2005 to 2013 had majorities that did not receive 50 percent of the popular vote (2005: 45.8 percent; 2009: 45.8 percent; 2013: 44.1 percent). The first-past-the-post system allowed them to pass legislation disregarding any opposition from other parties, regardless of the validity of their concerns. These parties were elected to represent those who voted against the majoritarian government based on their needs, values, and beliefs.

      This is not a system that represents the diversity of voices in British Columbia. We need to ensure all B.C. residents are adequately represented to inform public policy—regardless of whether your political beliefs align with the Liberal, NDP, or Green parties. We need proportional representation  

      The benefits of proportional representation

      Reforming our electoral structure to a system of proportional representation will strengthen our democracy and reflect the needs of B.C. residents.

      Proportional representation will encourage our governments to work collaboratively on public policy

      Having rich debates will highlight the context of all B.C. residents instead of only a certain segment. PR may result in more minority governments and this is not negative—policy that is adequately debated will be better informed and of optimal quality.

      Proportional representation will represent everyone fairly

      If a party receives 40 percent of the vote, it will receive 40 percent of the seats and power—not 100 percent. All votes cast in an election will be meaningful, regardless of geographic location or which party a person supports.

      Proportional representation encourages better and more transparent elections 

      Our current system leads to parties focusing on electoral areas that are considered to be “undecided”. They will present platforms that are appealing to these specific areas to gain seats. Proportional representation will make major political parties focus on pressing issues affecting the entire province.

      Proportional representation promotes equality and well-being

      When people are confident their democratic engagement can have a real impact, they are more likely to participate and advocate for the issues that affect them. Our most underserved and marginalized populations will benefit under proportional representation as their issues and votes are just as important as anybody else.  

      Closing Thoughts  

      I encourage all persons regardless of your political leanings or prior beliefs to read how each system objectively operates.

      We know that certain groups—in support or against proportional representation—are advocating aggressively through various forms of ads on social media. This can be effective in influencing our perceptions and we need to be aware of the motivation behind these ads. Question the advertisements you see.

      Is their language positive and focusing on increasing democratic engagement? Or is it fear mongering? Are they concerned with how this referendum affects everyone in B.C.? Or only certain populations? 

      I’ve examined each system and questioned the advertisements I’ve seen. I strongly believe in proportional representation. We can change the way we do government for the betterment of all British Columbians. This referendum is an exceptional opportunity that we do not get often.

      Our government has the chance to meaningfully represent all our residents—not only 40 percent of them.

      Marco Zenone is a 22-year-old graduate student at Simon Fraser University. Follow him on Twitter @marco_zenone.

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