PR helps young people feel invested in politics
Editor’s note: Katie Betanzo was raised in the Comox Valley and New Zealand. She’s a former editor of The Breezeway, the now defunct award-winning student newspaper at G.P. Vanier High School. Betanzo moved to New Zealand in 2001 and teaches media studies and English in Auckland. In this article, Betanzo writes about how proportional representative government works in her adopted country, in particular, how it has engaged younger voters.
BY KATIE BETANZO
Why didn’t you vote? “No one represents me.” “My vote doesn’t matter.”
It is a curious fact that the act of voting is habit forming. If you vote in an election, you are 10% more likely to vote in the next election than those who did not vote the first time around. If you are prevented from voting, or choose not to vote, even for one election where you are eligible, you are statistically less likely to vote in subsequent elections.
The most crucial election for a person’s future participation is the very first election after they are eligible.
Young people and their votes matter. If all young voters (aged under 25) voted, that would be a power block equal to the over 65 vote.
I work with teenagers every day, and I hear it all: I don’t care about politics; it’s boring; it doesn’t affect me.
You know what I don’t hear? “No one represents me” and “My vote doesn’t matter.”
Because in here New Zealand, it is obvious that the youth vote does matter (and, in fact, is on the increase). Less than 5% of votes cast in last year’s election were for parties that did not make it into Parliament. Every other vote went to determine the proportional makeup of the House. This is in stark contrast to FPTP. In BC’s election of 2017, ridings were won by as little as 38%; the remaining 62% of voters cast wasted votes.
As for representation, proportional rep has allowed us a far wider range of elected officials than we had under FPTP. Some of the most interesting movers and shakers in our current government were elected via the list vote in our MMP system – a little different from the one proposed in BC.
Our youngest current MP, Chloe Swarbrick, unsuccessfully ran for mayor of our largest city aged just 22. Two years down the track, she has been elected to Parliament via the Green Party list. Ms Swarbrick and her colleague Golriz Ghahraman, the first refugee to become a member of NZ’s parliament, are doing much to engage young people in politics.
Our Prime Minister is also making waves both at home and abroad. Of course it is news that Jacinda Ardern has had a baby during her first year in office, that she is the country’s youngest leader in more than 150 years and our first Labour PM (left of center) in almost a decade.
What is less often talked about is that she is only in office because of proportional representation. Had our 2017 election been FPTP, the incumbent National Party, which dominates in rural areas and small towns, would have been returned with a resounding majority of MPs – and less than half the popular vote. Ardern’s coalition partners, the Greens and New Zealand First, would have failed to make it into Parliament at all – despite gaining collectively over 10% of the vote.
It’s tricky to unpack chicken-and-egg, but my contention is that PR has increased diversity in Parliament at the same time as improving voter participation, especially for young voters.
Because that first vote really is critical.
Katie Betanzo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Regional District CAO Russell Dyson says a Human Rights Tribunal settlement agreement entered into by the CVRD and Kabel Atwall includes a clause that Area C Director Edwin Grieve did not make any racist comments
Comox Valley Regional District Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson issued an official statement Tuesday, Oct. 30, in response to a lawsuit filed by 3L Developments. The lawsuit, which came shortly after the CVRD denied the company’s application to amend the Regional Growth Strategy, asks the court to set aside the CVRD’s rejection among the multiple court orders it is seeking.
In his statement, Dyson reveals that in a settlement of a Human Rights Tribunal complaint, Area C Director Edwin Grieve denied making any racist remarks about 3L executive Kabel Atwall. The agreement, which includes a confidentiality clause, states “Grieve did not make any such comments,” according to Dyson.
The most recent 3L lawsuit claims Grieve did make such comments, which prompted the CVRD to respond.
Here’s the full text of the CVRD’s statement.
“On October 18, 2018 the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) was served with a petition to the Supreme Court of British Columbia that was filed by 3L Developments Inc., which is seeking nine court orders linked to the CVRD Board’s October 2, 2018 decision to deny the company’s application for a Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) amendment in order to create a new settlement node.
“The CVRD’s solicitors are actively reviewing the petition and accompanying materials and preparing to defend this claim. The CVRD has been committed to a fair, transparent process for the application and will continue to be respectful towards the court process and applicant’s options moving forward.
“Part of the petition filed by 3L Developments Inc. refers to an agreement that was reached following an allegation made to the Human Rights Tribunal in 2014.
“The CVRD received a complaint in January 2014 through the BC Human Rights Tribunal that Director Edwin Grieve, a CVRD Director, had made racist remarks about Kabel Atwall, 3L Development’s representative. The CVRD entered into a settlement hearing to respond to the allegations.
“Director Grieve refutes the claim that he made any such statement. The CVRD and Kabel Atwall entered a settlement agreement, which included a confidentiality clause and a clause confirming that Director Grieve did not make any such comments.
“Generally speaking, decisions to enter settlement agreements are oftentimes made to minimize spending public funds, come to terms with the individual who may have been impacted, allow the parties to move forward, and focus attention on delivering public services, as opposed to defending against such claims that could cost taxpayers significantly more money than a settlement agreement’s costs.
“The Human Rights Tribunal dismissed the complaint in May 2014. As the agreement contained a confidentiality clause, the CVRD intends to uphold the spirit of that clause and not discuss the matter further.”
Will British Columbians embrace electoral reform? Comox Valley residents have already started voting in the referendum to either retain our First Past The Post system of electing provincial governments, or switch to a version of Proportional Representation. Most households have received their mail-in ballots by now, and have until Nov. 30 to return them — postage free!
Readers of Decafnation have been sending us their thoughts on electoral reform. Here are three of them:
Vote yes, so your values and your votes count
By ALICE GRANGE
Too many of us have water that is not safe to drink, air that is not safe to breathe, and food that is not safe to eat; meanwhile corporate profits continue to soar.
I support Proportional Representation, (PR), because I am tired of the rich running and ruining British Columbia. Corporate funded ‘majority’ governments elected by less than 40% of the voters, continue to allow corporations to profit from our water and other natural resources. These same corporations dump toxic tailings into our waterways, incinerate their industrial waste, clearcut our remaining forests, and pollute our soil.
The 90+ Countries that have instituted Proportional Representation use 117% more renewable energy! They also have lower levels of income inequality, they spend less on the military, and are less prejudiced towards LGBTQ2+ and ethnic minorities…. Women are 8% better represented, 12% more of eligible youth vote, and civil liberties are better protected than in non PR countries. https://prorepfactcheck.ca.
I support PR because I want my values, my concerns for my neighbours and the water, air and soil we all depend on, to be heard. Politics has become a corporate money game. No matter how I vote, under the current FPTP system, unless I have oodles to donate, my voice is not heard in the Legislative Assembly and my vote doesn’t count!
We have an opportunity here, to turn the tide. To ensure that nearly everyone’s vote counts towards electing an MLA. The NO side’s well funded spokespeople would have you believe that party hacks will determine who represents you. That is not true. Under all of the systems proposed by the BC government there will be open lists. This means that you vote for who you want, even across party lines. As with the current system, the people on the ballot will be chosen by the party membership; as a voter you will get to put a check mark beside the person/people you wish to represent you and your vote WILL be represented in parliament.
Take the values related quiz at http://referendumguide.ca, as I did, to discover the form of PR proposed on the referendum ballot that best suits you.
And finally, let’s address the lie that PR will bring in more fringe parties. FPTP has saddled Ontarians with Doug Ford with a mandated ‘majority’ of only 41% of the popular vote. Surely we can do better than this with PR?
For more accurate facts on PR and FPTP, stop reading the slick corporate ads against PR and check out the facts. https://prorepfactcheck.ca.
Alice Grange is an Emotional Freedom Techniques (Tapping) practitioner who would love to live in a democracy. She lives in Courtenay
6 advantages of Proportional Representation
By DAVID ANSON
- A party wins seats in parliament according to its share of the popular vote. (In the First Past the Post system, it is common for a party to get a majority of the seats with a minority of the votes cast.) Most “majority governments” were not elected by the majority of citizens. There is only one instance of a government elected in B.C. with a real majority since 1956.
- The great majority of votes count—the great majority of voters elect someone. (In the First Past the Post system, a significant number of votes are wasted—a significant number of voters don’t elect anyone.) In “safe ridings”, where one party always wins, the experience of futility in voting happens repeatedly to the same voters. Voter turnout is 7% higher in countries with proportional representation.
- Voters can vote for what they believe in. (In the First Past the Post system, voters often vote against a party they don’t like by voting for whatever alternative party has the best chance of winning.) This kind of “strategic voting”, even if successful, leads to a lack of representation.
- The make-up of parliament is a close reflection of the diverse points of view of the voting population. (The First Past the Post system does not acknowledge the benefit of diverse points of view and skews the election result in favour of large parties.) Once a riding is won, all of its population is considered to be represented by the victor. This exaggerates homogeneity.
- An election is marked by a general campaign aimed at all voters. (In the First Past the Post system, an election is marked by a specific campaign to influence voters in “swing ridings”.) The desperate effort to pick up votes in swing ridings has led to smear campaigns against opponents and even to violations of election law without significant consequences. There is less likelihood that elections decided by proportional representation will be subverted.
- The government is obliged to work together with other parties to make decisions for the long term. (The First Past the Post system encourages hyper-partisanship in which the winning party follows its own agenda.) Some of the most popular and most enduring legislation in Canada was put into place by minority governments in which parties relaxed their separate agendas and focused on shared values.
David Anson is a Comox resident.
People don’t vote because the system doesn’t represent them
By JIM GILLIS
This November we have the opportunity to vote for Proportional Representation and change our present First Past the Post to an electoral system that represents all voters. We only have to look to the United States to see a two-party system locked in a death grip. In the New Brunswick recent election the Conservatives won by one constituency with 31 percent of the vote over the Liberals with 37 percent of the vote.
Citizens are not voting because they are not being represented in our present system. We need to change to Proportional Representation. Proportional Representation in a variety of forms is the method used by many Western countries. It is not new. It is a tried and true system that works. We as citizens should make a point of finding the facts
for ourselves by reviewing Fair Vote Canada’s fact checker website (https://prorepfactcheck.ca).
Over the last 150 years we have made many changes to our electoral system. In the beginning only rich men and landowners could vote, it was expanded to include all men, in the 20th century women were given the vote and in the last seventy years, Chinese, Japanese and our First Nations were given the vote. Let’s make another change that will include all voters in the final tally.
This November when your electoral reform package arrives vote for Proportional Representation a system that represents all voters.
Jim Gillis is a former Area B representative to the Comox Valley Regional District board, who still lives in Area B.
A BC Supreme Court has granted the Mack Laing Heritage Society intervenor status in the Town of Comox’s application to alter the naturalist’s public trust. MLHS hopes the new council is open to out-of-court discussions
This article was updated Monday to include a quote from Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott
There’s renewed hope that the fate of famous Comox naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing’s public trusts and his heritage home, called Shakesides, might be settled out of court.
Over the objections of the Town of Comox, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas W. Thompson recently granted the Mack Laing Heritage Society intervenor status in a case to alter the late naturalist’s public trust.
The town applied to the court in 2017 to change Laing’s trusts so it can demolish Shakesides and use the money and property Laing left the town for other purposes. The Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) has opposed the town’s application.
In a court hearing Oct. 16 in Nanaimo, Justice Thompson said he thought he had given clear instructions to the town and the BC Attorney General in mid-April to sign a consent order allowing the MLHS to present their evidence “with no restrictions” at trial.
The town has refused to sign several versions of the consent order because they want to exclude much of the MLHS evidence and limit the society’s time before the court.
This time, Justice Thompson directed the parties to sign a consent order, which he framed for them, and instructed MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning to write.
As of today, the Attorney General and MLHS have agreed to the terms, but the Town of Comox has not yet accepted the order as written.
The MLHS hopes Comox will sign the consent order soon. And, now that the municipal election is over, perhaps enter into talks that prevent further costly court appearances.
“We think the court did the right thing in making MLHS (an) intervenor, and if we get to court we have faith that the right thing will happen there as well,” said MLHS President Kris Nielsen.
“However, our true hope is that the new council will work with us instead of against us to realize the terms of Laing’s will, which Comox agreed to when they took his money in trust. To that end we have a business plan and generous support from many construction and heritage professionals.” he said.
Comox Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott has left the door open for talks.
“Given that there is a new council it will be something we will be looking at. I would hope to negotiate a suitable outcome for all parties involved and the community as a whole,” he said.
FURTHER READING: Read more on the Mack Laing case
The justice also granted additional time for the MLHS to present new evidence, despite objections from the town and the AG. He gave MLHS until Oct. 30 to file the new evidence and gave the town and the AG until Nov. 30 to file responses.
MLHS has prepared a business plan for restoring Shakesides and transforming it into the nature house envisioned by the famous Comox naturalist. The plan includes commitments from about two dozen Comox Valley construction companies to supply materials or labor at little or no cost to the town.
“We just wanted to make sure someone spoke for Mack in court,” said Gordon Olsen, a former friend of Mack Laing. “And we hope Comox doesn’t waste any more taxpayer dollars on this unnecessary litigation. Instead let’s honour the legacy of this amazing and generous man.”
There is no court date set to hear the case. It would not likely get onto the Supreme Court docket until February at the earliest.
Nielsen said that delay gives the society and the town an opportunity to hammer out a solution by the end of the year.
The Town of Comox has petitioned the court to vary the terms of Laing’s trust, including the right to demolish the famous ornithologist’s iconic home, called Shakesides. The society wants to present a business plan for a future use of Shakesides that honors Laing’s agreement with the town.
The society also wants a forensic audit of the Laing financial trust.
MLHS has argued for years that the town mishandled Laing’s funds. A private citizen, Gordon Olsen, commissioned an independent audit by a Campbell River firm that concluded Laing’s trust should be worth more than $400,000 today.
The town has admitted to claims by the MLHS, individuals and other organizations that it had misspent Laing’s money. In a Nov. 29, 2017 staff report, Town CAO Richard Kannigan presented a long list of inappropriate expenditures.
In December 2017, the Town Council voted to add back nearly $200,000 into the trust.
Meanwhile, the town has racked up additional legal fees by fighting the MLHS.
Who is Mack Laing
Hamilton Mack Laing (1883-1982) was one of Canada’s foremost naturalist-collectors; he was a photographer, artist, writer and educator whose output included over 700 journal and scientific articles.
He wrote a biography of his friend Major Allan Brooks, another well-known Canadian naturalist.
Laing left several unpublished manuscripts, journals and field notes, and hundreds of letters, papers and photographs. These are available for viewing at the Royal BC Museum, the Winnipeg Archives and the Canadian National Museum of Natural History.
Specimens he collected are still in the collections of many major Canadian and American museums.
Mack Laing belonged to the Brotherhood of Venery, a secret fraternity known as the “B.” This influential group of conservationists and naturalists included such notables as Percy Taverner, Kenneth Racey, J. B. Harkin, Ian McTaggart Cowan, John Muir and Aldo Leopold.
The anti-tax wave turned into a progressive tsunami in Courtenay; Long undercuts Jangula; 48% of Cumberland voters cast a ballot and a woman of color will contribute her world view to the regional district
This article was updated Oct. 30 to correct information about the Area C election and previously to correct the vote totals on the Cumberland referendum
As the Comox Valley awoke this morning, stumbled into the kitchen and stared vacantly out the window at a spectacular sunny late October day, were people thinking about the whirlwind six-week election campaign that ended last night?
Or were they still stoned from too much Legalization Day celebrations? Hung over from too much Election Night joy? Or, just seeing a yard full of maple leaves begging to be raked up?
Well, over here on Nob Hill, at the international headquarters of the Decafnation, we were thinking about what voters were thinking. What the election results mean, and what they don’t mean.
We did notice that of the 22 mayors, councillors and regional directors elected yesterday, Decafnation recommended 18 of them.
But in our own decaffeinated stupor this fine morning, these random thoughts passed through …
— Did Harold Long split the non-progressive vote and derail incumbent Larry Jangula’s bid for re-election? Jangula finished second to mayor-elect Bob Wells by 438 votes. Harold Long got 1,165 votes.
Long and Jangula feuded over a pact that Long says the pair made four years ago. Long would support Jangula in 2014 if Jangula supported Long in 2018. Long says Jangula reneged on the deal and Long ran anyway.
FURTHER READING: Detailed election results here
— The Comox Valley Taxpayers Alliance tried to rally the fiscal conservative vote, but did it actually show up? The CVTA endorsed six candidates for council and Jangula for mayor. Mano Theos was their only candidate to make the cut.
But looking at the mayor’s race, Jangula and Long captured 3,677 votes, more than Wells and Erik Eriksson, who received 3,597. A mere 80-vote differential.
On the other hand, Courtenay voters — where the CVTA exclusively focused their “taxes are too high!” message — elected a nearly unanimous progressive council. Theos is going to feel a little lonely for the next four years.
So, what to conclude? Jangula probably had individual popular support. Long cost him the election. But overall the efforts of the CVTA, despite all the money they spent on full-page advertising, didn’t make a difference. It may even have triggered a counterproductive effect by rallying progressive voters.
— We were surprised that Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird’s opponent got even 229 votes.
— It’s a cliche, we know, but every vote does count. Incumbent Roger Kishi missed re-election by 2 votes. And the Comox Valley lost an important voice of diversity.
— We don’t think there’s a provision for recounts in municipal elections. Why not?
— Which community had the highest voter turnout and which was the worst? It was no contest. Cumberland had a 48.0 percent turnout the highest in the region. The Comox Valley’s worst was the rural electoral areas at 28.7 percent.
Courtenay had a 37.1 percent turnout and Comox had 40.4 percent. Campbell River did the worst of all at 25.4 percent. Qualicum was the best regionally with 58.9 percent. Parksville had 43.5 percent and Nanaimo did well at 40.3 percent.
— How did mayors fare compared to their elected councillors? Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird got 83.25 percent of the vote, the highest of any Comox Valley candidate. No village councillors got a higher percentage, but Vickey Brown topped the polls with 63.6 percent.
Mayor-Elect Bob Wells got 40.56 percent of the vote, and five councillors grabbed a higher percentage of the vote. Will Cole-Hamilton topped the city polls with 48.6 percent.
Comox Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott received 61.8 percent of the vote. Two of his council members got more, including Alex Bissinger who topped the polls with 63.9 percent.
— In a move that will benefit the entire Comox Valley, Cumberland voters gave their Village Council approval to borrow up to $4.4 million to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant by a substantial margin: 1,011 to 316.
Voters really had no choice because the village has to upgrade its operations for face potential fines from the Ministry of Environment for being out of compliance with provincial standards. But the strong “yes” vote gives the village extra leverage in obtaining grant external funding and lowering the amount it has to borrow.
— Courtenay voters also approved a non-binding request for City Council to undertake a study of Valley-wide governance reforms all the way up to amalgamation. It will be interesting how this study evolves, if at all, because Cumberland and Comox haven’t expressed interest. The vote was 4,734 yes to 1,494 no.
— Vickey Brown, who stepped down as a school trustee to run in the Cumberland municipal election, topped the polls, besting re-elected incumbent Jesse Ketler by 44 votes. Brown previously sought a council seat in the 1990s and lost by just 10 votes.
— Erik Eriksson was the first Comox Valley candidate to announce his campaign. Just over a year ago, incumbent councillor Eriksson said he was running for mayor, a move criticized by some as starting the campaign too early. But it did force other mayoral hopefuls David Frisch — who later dropped out to re-run for council — and Bob Wells to announce their intentions just four months later.
Eriksson finished last in the four-way race for mayor. Was it because he announced so early? Did he ruffle too many feathers with his council colleagues by refusing to abide the chamber convention of referring to each other as “Councillor Hillian,” etc., and using just their first names?
Or did he lose progressive supporters by voting with Jangula, Theos and Ken Grant on 3L Developments proposed amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy? While the optics of Eriksson’s action may have cost him support from anti-amendment voters, he did it to continue the consultation process, including a public hearing.
Eriksson’s fears materialized when 3L filed a multi-faceted lawsuit just three days before the Oct. 20 election, essentially alleging that the Comox Valley Regional District didn’t give their proposal fair consideration.
— It’s interesting that voters convincingly supported Edwin Grieve in Area C, despite being banned from 3L discussions at the CVRD board table because of a settlement agreement of a Human Rights Tribunal complaint made by a 3L executive. Voters gave Grieve a vote of confidence.
— For the first time, a woman of color will represent a CVRD rural electoral area. Arzeena Hamir, who defeated incumbent Rod Nichol in Area B, was born in Tanzania, East Africa, moved to BC in 1973, served as a CUSO volunteer in Thailand, where she’s fluent in the language, and spent time in India doing field research for a Masters degree in sustainable agriculture that she earned from the University of London, England.
— Finally, more than half of the Comox Valley school district board of trustees were elected by acclamation (four out of seven). Why is there so little interest in the school board? (Full disclosure, Decafnation did not profile school trustee candidates or survey them on education issues. Nor were we able to profile every mayoral and council candidate.)