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Rural voices will be better heard under proportional representation: MLA

About 35 people showed up at Books and Co. Friday night to listen to Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau, one of three Green Party MLAs, speak on proportional representation. Bill Phillips photo
About 35 people showed up at Books and Co. Friday night to listen to Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau, one of three Green Party MLAs, speak on proportional representation. Bill Phillips photo


Rural ridings will fare better under a proportional representation electoral system, says Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau.

The Green Party MLA dismisses arguments that changing away from the first-past-the-post electoral system will diminish the voice of rural B.C. in the Legislature.

“Under the first-past-the-post, what matters in an election is the swing ridings,” she said. “Surrey had the swing ridings in this election, so what happened? The tolls got cancelled, you and I and our constituents are paying for those bridges now instead of the people who are driving over them every day.”

Furstenau gave her views on proportional representation to a crowd of about 35 people people at Books and Co. Friday night. British Columbians will vote, in a referendum, this fall to determine whether it wants to change to a proportional representation system.

Furstenau if you’re in a ‘safe’ riding, whether NDP or Liberal, the riding is often taken for granted.

“Our policy and politics ends up being focused on these swing ridings under first-past-the-post and majoritarian governments,” she said. “The voices of rural communities haven’t been heard for a long time. Changing to proportional representation is actually going to boost the voice of these communities because suddenly all of the votes are going to count up and (politicians) have to work for them. You can’t take them for granted anymore.

“Rural ridings, whether Liberal or NDP, have been neglected because the swing ridings are where all the focus goes during elections and then all those debts get paid after the election. We can do better than that.”

Furstenau also dismisses the notion that the move to a proportional system has been devised to keep the Liberals out of office.

“This is one of the problems with the whole conversation around politics is that we talk about power instead of responsibility,” she said. “The idea of having an electoral system that results in a legislature that reflects what the voters wanted, isn’t about keeping anyone keeping anyone in, or out of power. It’s about better representative democracy.”

Furstenau says what’s important is improving representation in the province. She pointed out that currently voters often vote ‘strategically’ which means not voting for someone they want but rather voting against someone they don’t want. And, if their candidate isn’t elected, voters often feel their vote was wasted.

“Ultimately, in a lot of ways, it was because we can only vote for the representation in our riding under first-past-the-post,” she said. “Under proportional representation you elect a person in your riding, but you also get to have a say in the ultimate make-up of the legislature which means it represents the intention of all the voters of B.C. That’s how we modernize our electoral system.”

Furstenau agrees that a proportional representation system will result in more minority governments, but says that’s not necessarily a bad thing, adding health care, the Canada Pension Plan, and student loan programs are all the result of minority governments.

“If we have a proportional system that forces parties to work together and collaborate and represent the majority of voters, we’re going to get better policy,” she said. “We’re going to get policy that represents the majority of voters and we’re going to have longer term thinking … That means you now have to find that common ground, you now have to find those common values, you now have to represent more of the electorate. That leads to better decisions.”

One of the other fears about a proportional representation system is that fringe parties gain a foothold. Under the proposed new rules, however, a party will have to secure at least five per cent of the popular vote to gain a seat in the legislature through proportional representation. In the last election only three parties – the NDP, Liberals, and Greens – secured more than five per cent.

“Your electoral system isn’t what delivers fringe or extremism, it’s people feeling that they don’t have a voice, people feeling they aren’t represented,” she said. “We are seeing plenty of examples of fringe and extremism in a first-past-the-post system south of us right now were openly racist, white supremacist people are running for Congress under the Republican banner.”

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