Oct 10, 2018

A model for fairness

Why I’m voting ‘Yes’ for proportional representation

Sometimes it seems like there’s an election on the horizon every time I sit down to write my column for Public Employee, and this issue is no exception. Not only do we have local elections in every community in the province within days of this magazine arriving in the mail, but right after Election Day, the voting period begins for the provincial referendum on proportional representation.

CUPE BC will be campaigning hard in the municipal elections, working with our locals and community allies to elect as many progressive candidates as possible. See the cover story on pages 9-11 for more details on those efforts. In this column, I want to focus on why I’m personally supporting a “Yes” vote in the P.R. referendum.

For me, it’s primarily about fairness. Under the current “first past the post” system, a political party has often won a massive majority government with less than 50 per cent of the vote, leaving many voters feeling that their votes didn’t count. Under proportional representation, every vote truly counts, and it will result in a Legislature that better reflects the population and political will of the electorate.

Countering the Doug Ford Effect

Too often we see elections result in outcomes like we saw in Ontario earlier this year. Today, Premier Doug Ford holds 100 per cent of the power in that province despite winning just 40 per cent of the votes. We’re reminded almost hourly that our neighbours to the south are governed by one of the most extreme and unpredictable politicians in history—and Donald Trump, too, was elected by first past the post.

Opponents of proportional representation claim that we’re more likely to end up with minority governments as a result. But is that such a bad thing? Look at the work the BC NDP government has done with the support of the Green Party caucus. I’m happy to see the results of Premier John Horgan’s agreement with the Greens.

After 16 years of BC Liberal attacks on workers’ rights, we’re seeing balance restored to the Labour Relations Board, making it less difficult for workers to organize. We’re seeing greater, more sustainable investments in K-12 education and health care. We’re finally seeing the development of a poverty reduction plan, after years of B.C. being the only province in Canada without one. And we’ve finally got a ban on big money in our elections after a BC Liberal legacy of delivering for their wealthy donors at the expense of the rest of us.

Change for the better

I know that for some, change can be intimidating—especially to a system that’s so fundamental to how our governments are formed. That’s why I’m glad that if the referendum is successful, after two elections under proportional representation there will be a second referendum to give voters an opportunity for reconsideration. While I’m confident that proportional representation will be good for B.C., it’s important to have an “escape” clause in the unlikely event that it’s not.

Fairness, a rural-urban balance, and an opportunity to reconsider the decision if it doesn’t work out—I believe the choice couldn’t be more clear. That’s why I’ll be voting an enthusiastic “Yes” in the referendum. I hope you’ll join me. For more information, read the other part of the main feature in this issue, and check out

Paul Faoro is president of CUPE BC, British Columbia’s largest union, representing 92,000 workers delivering important public services in communities across the province.

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