GUEST COLUMN: Proportional representation curbs extremist movements

Pioneer of B.C. electoral reform argues for yes vote in referendum

Nick Loenen is a former Social Credit MLA for Richmond. (Contributed)

Nick Loenen is a former Social Credit MLA for Richmond. (Contributed)

By Nick Loenen

I will vote in favour of proportional representation (Pro Rep) in the referendum on electoral reform this fall, because Pro Rep is more effective at keeping extremists from government than the existing voting system.

In Canada, we’ve avoided extremists in government not because of strong institutional safeguards, but rather because Canadians themselves have largely shunned extremists. Now that is changing. Today, all around the world, extremism is on the rise. That’s why now is the time to strengthen our institutions.

Pro Rep is an opportunity to take pre-emptive action, lest a Donald Trump or Doug Ford take power in Victoria. Don’t think it can’t happen here: in B.C., we have exactly the same system that elected these two extremists. Trump won control of the executive branch of the U.S. government even though the majority of US voters—54 per cent—did not vote for him.

In Ontario, Ford’s Conservatives gained control of government by increasing their vote-share seven per cent, but incredibly, received 46 per cent more seats. It is our system that produces wild swings in government like this.

Gordon Gibson: B.C.’s referendum vote is dishonest, misleading

The weakness of B.C.’s status quo voting system is two-fold: only some votes count and governments get elected with a minority of the vote. Under Pro Rep, all votes count and governments get elected on legitimate majorities. Under Pro Rep, neither Trump nor Ford would ever have a chance to form a government. Changing our voting system to Pro Rep almost guarantees that no extremists will come to power. If you are apprehensive of the likes of Trump and Ford, vote in favour of Pro Rep to make our voting system more robustly democratic, and keep extremists far from the levers of power.

B.C.’s referendum proposal has built-in mechanisms to keep extremist and fringe parties from gaining control. Parties must win a minimum of five per cent of the popular vote to win seats in the BC Legislature. Even then, winning seats in parliament is not the same as controlling or influencing government.

In recent years, European far-right parties have increased their vote-share and gained more seats. But significantly, and with few exceptions, extremists have not gained influence on government. The most recent example is Sweden, where a far-right party increased its seats, but still has no part in government.

In his landmark study of 22 democracies, Arendt Lijphart, the world’s foremost scholar of voting systems, tested the effectiveness of small parties and concluded that in nearly all instances, parties have influence commensurate with their numerical strength and no more. Our own experience in B.C.’s current coalition government bears that out.

Under Pro Rep, all significant political interests and diversities exert pressure on the tiller of the ship of state in proportion to their numerical strength. In contrast, under the current voting system, the captain, elected on a minority of the vote, takes over the helm and orders everyone else off the bridge.

Everywhere democracy is in retreat. Fuelled by fears, people look for strong leadership. But what is strong leadership? I will vote for strong leadership based on inclusion, consensus, cooperation. The best guarantee against abuse of government power is to share that power among the many, rather than the few.

Nick Loenen is a former Richmond councillor and Social Credit MLA, co-founder of Fair Voting BC and author of the 1997 book Citizenship and Democracy, a case for proportional representation.

BC legislatureProportional representation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mount Sentinel Secondary who is also a volunteer firefighter, has won the $100,000 Loran Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
West Kootenay student wins $100K scholarship

Tala MacDonald is one of 30 Canadians to receive the Loran Scholarship

Montrose resident Kimba McLean has hiked Antenna Trail every day since October and counting. Photo: Jim Bailey
Montrose man makes daily trek up Antenna Trail

Kimba McLean put on more than 800-km hiking Antenna Trail every day for the past six months

Kristian Camero and Jessica Wood, seen here, co-own The Black Cauldron with Stephen Barton. The new Nelson restaurant opened earlier this month while indoor dining is restricted by the province. Photo: Tyler Harper
A restaurant opens in Nelson, and no one is allowed inside

The Black Cauldron opened while indoor dining is restricted in B.C.

First-year Selkirk College student Terra-Mae Box is one of many talented writers who will read their work at the Black Bear Review’s annual (virtual) launch on April 22. Photo: Submitted
Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

(Police handout/Kamloops RCMP)
B.C. man dies in custody awaiting trial for Valentine’s Day robbery, kidnapping spree

Robert James Rennie, who was on the Kamloops RCMP’s most wanted list, passed away at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks games against Leafs postponed as team returns from COVID-19

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani in Comox. Photo by Karen McKinnon
Island woman makes historic name change for truth and reconciliation

Becomes first person in Canada to be issued new passport under the TRC Calls to Action

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Most Read