Game changer, but not a game winner

If voters pass electoral reform, the work just gets started

By PAT CARL

I’m a big-time college basketball fan. Men’s or women’s basketball, it doesn’t matter. If a college game’s on, I’m glued to ESPN. Other big-time fans know that a basket at the buzzer won Notre Dame the 2018 NCAA Women’s National Championship on April 1. What a way to win the game!

Unlike Notre Dame’s game-winning Hail Mary basket, if the majority of voters support electoral reform in BC’s November referendum, we will have only a game changer, not a game winner. In fact, the game would not be over at all because the hard work would just be beginning.

Why?

If electoral reform passes, British Columbians must learn to trust those who have worked hard to maintain the first-past-the-post status quo. Supporters of the status quo must, in turn, learn to trust those who supported proportional representation. Beyond that, legislators must learn to collaborate, to find common ground, in order to complete government business.

That won’t be easy.

Let’s try to understand how difficult that might be by using a personal example: my family.

Like some of yours, I’m sure, my family is split down the political middle. For years, my parents were confirmed Democrats (most like Liberals in Canada) because they loved Franklin D. Roosevelt and his necessary social reforms. Later, they became Republicans (most like Conservatives in Canada) because they couldn’t morally support a woman’s right to choose.

They raised four children. Two of us strongly believe in social justice, economic safety nets and environmental stewardship, while the other two believe just as strongly in individualism, growing the economy and small government.

I don’t know how to have a conversation with two of my brothers.  They don’t know how to have a conversation with me.

Sound familiar?

Now take that family dynamic and apply it to BC. How can we avoid creating an unbridgeable divide between first-past-the-post supporters and proportional representation supporters?

For one thing, during the lead-up to the referendum vote, both sides could refrain from exaggerating how wonderful its position is and how terrible the other one is. There’s enough of a difference between first-past-the-post and proportional representation to simply state the unembellished facts and let the voters decide.

Why not embrace nuance rather than exaggerated claims that sound like first-past-the-post and proportional representation are characters in a Shakespearean tragedy?  

We need to ask: What portion of the first-past-the-post arguments and what portion of the proportional representation arguments are true; what portion is exaggerated to the point of being untruthful or divisive?

Finally, the general electorate must take seriously the gift we enjoy and the responsibility we have living in a democracy. We must challenge ourselves to become politically literate by investigating the issues, by understanding that issues are seldom black or white, and by voting thoughtfully and wisely.

We and our legislative representatives will be far more likely to work collaboratively post-referendum if, during the lead-up to the referendum, we honestly and civilly discuss the issues. The less baggage we accumulate as we debate electoral reform, the easier it will be to accomplish good governance after the referendum.

Remember: Unlike a game-winning basket, if electoral reform happens, the game changes, but it’s not over.

Pat Carl is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley. She wrote this for Decafnation’s Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at pat.carl0808@gmail.com.

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