Today, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about the Electoral System in the Legislature. You can watch the video here, or read the transcript below.
It is a great privilege for me to stand here today to speak to the member for Burnaby North’s resolution that this House support an electoral system where every vote counts and where the percentage of seats in the Legislature reflects the percentage of popular vote.
I grew up believing in the fairness of democracy. We exercise democracy when we vote. The result of that vote should make a difference, or why would we bother? The fact is voter turnout is on the decline. On that point alone, we should be concerned in this House.
The voting system in place today doesn’t ensure a government that will have an ear to the concerns of the people of the province. The result of a citizens vote may make a difference, but maybe not. In fact, in every election but one in the last 90 years, the majority of voters did not have a government that reflected their values and perspectives.
“Every vote counts” doesn’t simply mean that every vote is counted on election night. It means that every voter’s choice at the ballot box translates into a voice in this Legislature — a voice that is expressing their values and their perspectives on government and the laws of British Columbia.
During the fall session of the Legislature, our new government took the first of two steps to grow the integrity of our democracy. We started by banning big money from politics so that the voice of the people will be the voice of government, not drowned out by the power and influence of big business and organizations.
In a second step, the people of British Columbia deserve to have every person’s vote count and have the diversity of B.C. reflected in the decisions of government. Government that is powered by the people has so much potential to create a better world for all.
Democracy is not a static thing. It responds to the pressures and circumstances of the day. Early Canada was ruled by the family compact, an elite and empowered group of businessmen and leaders who focused on their business interests and not on things that mattered to the vast majority of citizens — things like roads and schools.
The desire for a more representative government grew. In the 1830s, democratic reform was sought through revolution. Although it was defeated, the people had their way. The family compact was undone.
Even with the family compact gone, Canada’s electoral system continued to be restrictive. Only landowners had the vote. Voters had to be able to read English. The vast number of new Canadians who laboured for small wages and didn’t own property pushed for a voice. Then the suffragette movement that we talked about last week brought the vote for women.
Embarrassingly, until 1960, Indigenous people were not allowed to vote without giving up their treaty rights or status. Our democracy, obviously, has not been static. Looking back, it’s easy to see that it needed to change, and it did change for the better.
The original first-past-the-post system was built on two parties. In our 2017 provincial election, I counted 19 parties in B.C. vying for our vote. I hear there are more. It is this circumstance that results in first-past-the-post serving up 100 percent of the power to governments that have, for all but one since 1928, represented less than 50 percent of the will of the voters.
Today’s government does represent a majority with more than 57 percent of voters having the balance of power. That’s because in this minority situation, two parties formally agreed on how to work together, and that’s what people are longing for. Just like a good marriage, you can disagree, but you work it out.
Speaking of minority governments, I think it is also worth shining a light on the fact that good things do happen when there is not a power imbalance in government. It was a minority government that produced our proud legacy programs medicare and the Canada Pension Plan — world-renowned programs that truly define Canada.
Democracy should fairly express our values, and those values should shape the democratic electoral system in B.C., where the percentage of seats in the Legislature reflects everyone’s vote. That’s fair, and it works to make every vote truly count.