Deepening Democracy: Questions on Representation

Issues related to representing voters

Our political system is fundamentally a representative democracy, but our legislatures, city councils and parliament are typically highly unrepresentative of the voters, whether considered in terms of political ideology, party identification, or sociocultural characteristics. Half our voters are currently represented by MLAs they have not voted for, some ideological perspectives are systematically excluded (e.g., Conservative or Green Party supporters), and there is significant underrepresentation in our legislature of women, younger people and certain ethnic groups. Furthermore, the routine use of party discipline often makes voters feel that the party leadership prevents their MLAs from actively representing them.

8. Advancing Voting Reform: Do you support renewing a public deliberative process aimed at addressing our representation deficiencies?

When the BC Citizens’ Assembly met in 2004, they identified representational problems as pressing and important. Despite the fact that the change to the voting system that they recommended won a clear majority of 57.7% popular support, the government of the day opted not to implement this recommendation, and the underlying problems the Assembly identified remain unaddressed nearly a decade later.

9. Advancing Voting Reform: Do you support the principle of proportional representation (ie, that all voters are, to the greatest extent practical, equally entitled to representation of their own choosing in the legislature)?

The voting system the BC Citizens’ Assembly recommended adopting (the Single Transferable Vote) was based on the principle of proportional representation, which means that, to the greatest extent practical, each voter should be equally represented in the legislature. Under our current system, only half the voters are represented by an MLA of their own choosing.

10. Advancing Voting Reform: Which of the following processes proposed by BC’s Chief Elections Officer do you believe are appropriate for taking the next step towards voting reform?

BC’s Chief Electoral Officer described three main options for evaluating potential reforms. Please select as many options as you believe are acceptable.

  • Independent Electoral Reform Commission
  • Citizens’ Assembly
  • Legislative Committee
  • I do not believe this issue should be addressed at this time
  • Other option:

11. Reducing Party Discipline: Do you support eliminating the requirement that the party leader sign candidate nomination papers?

The BC Citizens’ Assembly found that many British Columbians believe that MLAs are too much their party’s representative to them, rather than the people’s representative to Victoria. A number of proposals have been put forward to strengthen the historical oversight and legislative roles of MLAs and oppose the centralization of power in the premier’s office.

12. Reducing Party Discipline: Do you support shifting more responsibility for drafting legislation to all-party committees?

Historically, drafting legislation is one of the two main responsibilities of representatives in Westminster-style parliamentary democracies. Increasingly, however, legislation is drafted by cabinet ministers working directly with their ministries and MLAs only see legislation once it’s introduced to the legislature. At the federal level, however, all-party committees have an explicit role in preparing legislation (though this route is not always followed).

13. Reducing Party Discipline: Do you support making the majority of legislative votes free votes?

The practice of ‘whipping’ votes is widely practiced, but has the detrimental effect of making voters feel that their representatives have little influence in the legislature (captured in the phrase “representing Victoria to the constituents, not the constituents to Victoria”). It has often been suggested that whipping be reserved primarily or solely for budget votes and other matters of confidence.

14. Reducing Party Discipline: Do you support having either the government caucus or even the whole legislature elect the premier?

In principle, parliamentary systems require authority to flow from voters to representatives to the executive. In some places (e.g., Ireland, Sweden, Japan), the prime minister is either nominated or elected by parliament. Historically, the British prime minister was elected by the government caucus, much the way US House and Senate party leaders at both the state and federal levels are today. As columnist Iain Hunter recently argued, “Where leaders are elected in parliament, parliament itself is strengthened.”

15. Civic Voting Reform Rights for Vancouver: Do you support granting Vancouver the right to choose the voting system it feels best suits the needs of its citizens?

In 2004, Justice Thomas Berger (Electoral Reform Commission, City of Vancouver) recommended empowering Vancouver with the freedom to choose its own voting system. City Council has petitioned the provincial government three times for this right, each time by unanimous, multiparty votes in council, but the province has not yet granted their petition.

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