Proportional representation: The North will have the same clout as we always had

I’ve lived in the Interior all my life.

For as long as I can remember, we have bemoaned the fact that the more-populous Lower Mainland rules the day when it comes to politics.

We have always been outnumbered.

So I’m a little puzzled with the argument that if we adopt proportional representation all the political clout will be transferred to Vancouver.

I must have missed the memo because I don’t recall it ever being transferred out of Vancouver. I suspect the argument, being touted everywhere by the Vote No to ProRep people, was dreamed up in a Vancouver boardroom somewhere.

The sad part, is that it resonates, even though it’s wrong.

Vote No to ProRep claims (insert stern, doomsayer voice here) that proportional representation will “eliminate any voice B.C.’s small communities ever had in government.”

It doesn’t explain how this will happen, if it hasn’t already. In these post-truth days, just screaming something will happen is good enough.

So let’s examine some of what has, and will, happen.

Firstly, under the first-past-the-post system no one single area of the province is represented by more than one MLA. Whether you live in Fort Fraser or at Hastings and Granville, you are only represented by one MLA. Under proportional representation, chances are you will, regardless of where you live in B.C., be represented by more than one MLA. How is that less of a voice?

OK, OK, before you start hitting the scream button on Facebook, the concern is that under proportional representation the distribution of MLAs will favour the Lower Mainland.

Before we tackle that … some history. Just 10 short years ago, Prince George was served by three MLAs. Now we have two (my turn to hit the scream button … UNDER-FIRST-PAST-THE-POST).

The reality is population numbers are decreasing in rural areas while increasing in urban areas, mostly the Lower Mainland.

There is an irony in that those wanting to keep first-past-the-post support the idea of majority rule, but don’t like the fact the majority isn’t here.

However, it is a real concern in the Interior that representation is getting lost as the majority of the province is ever-more concentrated in the 604. That concentration won’t change, regardless of the referendum outcome.

The Liberals were accused of gerrymandering when they tried to halt that slide a few years back and directed the Electoral Boundaries Commission to retain the existing number of seats in northern B.C., regardless of what the population dictated.

Now for some facts (I know, I know, they’re so 2015, but here goes).

There are 87 seats in the British Columbia legislature. The North (north of 100 Mile House) has 10 of those seats, including the two in Prince George. Under proportional representation, the number of seats will likely increase slightly, to maybe 95. Prince George will likely to continue to have two MLAs and the North 10, maybe even 11. The North’s overall clout in the legislature will be pretty close to what it is now, perhaps a little less but more in line with the population. We here in the North like to remind the Lotusland condo-dwellers that the province’s wealth is generated here, so we should have more of a say. Sounds good, except no electoral system will deliver that unless we get more MLAs in the North, which would require tinkering with our electoral system to provide proportionality in the North, economically. That’s not going to happen.

Fun fact: All three proposed proportional representation systems are designed to maintain rural representation.

The Vote No to ProRep fearmongering comes from the Mixed Member Proportional system that will use a list to top up the number of MLAs and achieve proportionality. The Vote No folks are assuming, wrongly, that all those top up MLAs will come from the Lower Mainland, hence the power shift claim. All indications are the top-up MLAs will come from regional lists, meaning they will come from all areas of the province.

Under the Dual Member system, the first MLA in a riding is elected by first-past-the-post and the top up member is chosen from the other candidates who ran in that riding.

Under the Urban-Rural system, larger areas will use a ranked balloting system (STV) which inherently elects representatives proportionally and rural areas will use a mixed member system with top-up MLAs picked from a regional list.

Damn, facts got in the way of a good story again.

This notion that proportional representation will result in the Interior having no say, well, it’s bunk. We’ll still have local MLAs and they’ll still have about as much clout as they ever did.