BY BILL PHILLIPS
If you think next fall’s referendum on proportional representation isn’t going to dominate discussion throughout the summer, think again.
Federal NDP electoral reform critic Nathan Cullen, who sat on the federal Liberals’ ill-fated electoral reform committee, will lend his expertise to the province as it tries to secure a ‘yes’ vote here in B.C.
He says he will do whatever the B.C. government asks him to, in terms of speaking in favour of proportional representation.
“This will be the first time in Canadian history where a referendum is being held with a government that is in favour of change,” he said. “Every other referendum was held with the government opposed or ambivalent. This will be an important test, not only for the province but for the entire country.”
His time on the federal committee has given him a wealth of information on the pros and cons of different voting systems around the world.
“My personal bent is finding a system that works for rural and remote communities,” he said. “Often voting systems, and politics in general, is consumed by urban and suburb populations. I want to make sure that whatever system we arrive at isn’t just one that works for the population in those centres.”
He says statistics on proportional representation around the globe show that vote satisfaction and voter turnout goes up.
About the only thing that all six contenders for the BC Liberal party leadership is that they oppose proportional representation. Andrew Wilkinson has suggested that the party dump all the public money it receives under new rules banning corporate and union donations, into the fight against proportional representation. Liberals have also suggested that local representation will be lost under a proportional representation system. Cullen says that just isn’t true.
“Sounds more desperation from the Liberals,” he said. “They want to keep the status quo where they only need 39 to 40 per cent of the vote to get 100 per cent of the power in a majority government. The status quo was working very well for the wealthy and the well-connected. We want a voting system that works for everybody and make every vote count. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.”
Most democracies around the world, with the exception of Canada, the U.S. and the England have some sort of proportional representation.
A group called Yes PRBC has also sprung up, lobbying for a ‘yes’ vote in the fall.
Former NDP MP Jean Crowder and chair of the Alliance of BC Students Caitlin McCutchen are heading up the group and they are planning a province-wide tour, but have not yet announced dates.