Opponents of electoral reform are afraid of losing their power
By Pat Carl
At Courtenay’s recent Downtown Market Days, I was out in the crowd talking with various people about proportional representation and handing them a half-page information sheet.
Some people stopped to talk. They wanted more information.
Others walked right by and said they had already made up their minds. That’s fine.
Still others saw me coming and changed their destination enough to avoid me. That’s fine, too.
Several people told me they don’t vote, never have, never will. Not fine, though a symptom, I think, of what’s wrong with our electoral system.
But, almost to a person, everyone I spoke with was respectful, tolerant, and polite in that way that defines us as Canadians.
Notice that I said “almost.”
One older fellow came up to me and said, “It’s all a set-up. A few crazies holding the rest of us hostage.”
His comment felt like a drive-by since he walked away without giving me the chance to respond. But he came back almost immediately, his face red, his arms wind-milling, his voice growing louder as he became more apoplectic. “What we have works and is fine and this whole thing is just a waste of time and money.”
Although not a big man, the level of his frustration and anger surprised me enough that I back-pedaled away from him.
Thankfully, he stomped off then, muttering to himself.
As I watched him go, I thought about the full-page anti-PR ads, the meanspirited commentaries, and the manipulative language and examples designed by the individuals, organizations, and, yes, the BC Liberal Party in their attempts to activate some of the public’s worst fears and biases.
We have individuals like Jim Shepard, the wealthy tycoon and former CEO of forestry giant, Canfor, who recently spent big bucks running full-page anti-PR ads in BC publications, both large and small. In the ads he asserts that the referendum lacks legitimacy because it’s too complex and confusing for people to understand. A person who reads the referendum sees just how ridiculous this claim is.
British Columbians are quite capable of understanding these questions. Perhaps Shepard is implying we’re slow on the up-take.
We have organizations like the No BC Proportional Representation Society headed by Bill Tieleman, Suzanne Anton, and Bob Plecas. Both Plecas and Anton are apt to entone their mantra repeatedly that the current system is simple, stable and effective, so, they assert, there’s no reason to change to a proportional one. Tieleman’s mantra is that proportional representation will lead to the rise of his favourite bogeyman, fringe parties.
These Gang of Three are master manipulators of a human cognitive glitch called the illusionary truth effect. Repeat lies or half truths often enough and the public will believe them. Think about how this works south of Canada’s border and you’ll get the idea.
We have a party, the Liberal Party, so thoroughly opposed to proportional representation that Andrew Wilkinson, now the Liberal Party’s leader, made clear reference to defeating it in his leadership acceptance speech back in February. If anything, the Liberals are bracing for all-out war, as one columnist called it, in its desperate bid to defeat electoral reform.
All this, despite the Attorney General having built a fail-safe provision into the electoral referendum. On page 7 of the AG’s report, How We Vote, it states:
If the result of the 2018 referendum is the adoption of a proportional representation voting system, a second referendum [shall] be held, after two provincial general elections in which the proportional representation voting system is used, [to determine] whether to keep that voting system or revert to the First Past the Post voting system.
That’s right, a do-over.
With that in their back pockets, I ask, “What are these guys so afraid of?”
The answer, in a nutshell – they’re afraid of losing power.
They’re afraid that lobbying efforts, so long the method most used by the wealthy and corporations to get their way, will be less effective and cost a great deal more in both time and money when they must lobby coalition governments.
They’re afraid that a government that actually reflects the majority of voters will make it more difficult for special interests to have unfettered access to the public purse.
They’re afraid that they will have to actually convince at least one other party of the wisdom of their policy direction.
They’re afraid that voters will vote for who actually represents them and their values.
They’re afraid that the will of the many will win out over the greed of a few.
Pat Carol is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley and a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at email@example.com