I’m done crying. I’m done with feeding salty/bitter tears over our failed BC referendum on electoral reform. Many wonderful people gave almost bottomlessly to the hope that we might vote in an electoral system that would see the members of our legislature actually reflect the parties/people that we vote for. Perhaps my angst is fed by the fact that I didn’t engage fully in the electoral reform referendum until I could see first-hand the devastating effect of first past the post in allowing a small minority of voters to elect a tin pot tyrant like Rob Ford in Ontario. Why it took me so long I don’t know. Clearly our first past the post electoral system saw Stephen Harper and his corporatist agenda “elected” six times by a minority of the electorate.

But–as I wrote above—I’m done with crying. It’s time to access what have we learned? Where do we go from here?

Well, though I didn’t want to, I learned that social media is a powerful force at milking resentment. It finds us where we are and through the new found power of algorithms it can tailor-make our inmost resentments (ones we may not even be aware of—or of their implications and power–and join them to others with similar but individually crafted resentments to achieve what would never be accomplished through rational discourse, i.e, Brexit, fear of immigrants, Trump, “complicated voting systems.” How we turn that clock back I don’t know. I don’t think those of lesser monetary means can master the power of social media in the way that big money now does. It does occur to me that the power given to so few needs to be democratized just as monopoly corporate power has been broken up for the public good. Perhaps we need to start that voice for change now.

I know that many(many of my friends and colleagues) will disagree—profoundly—but I believe that one lesson we must learn from the failed electoral reform referendum in BC is that when engaging in referendum or other mechanisms for important social change we must MUST keep the decision about where, what and how in public hands and it must be open to hearing from more than just the most dedicated. For example: in both the recent BC referendum on electoral reform and in the federal debate about the electoral reform promised by Trudeau during the 2015 federal election campaign Fair Vote Canada(FVC) was able to monopolize the discussion about what kind of electoral reform is possible to consider. FVC wants Canadians to consider Proportional Representation(PR) only. Other forms of electoral reform, like preferential ballot (PB), cannot be considered because they aren’t as good by FVC standards as something like preferential ballot.

I happen to agree that PR is better in electing a legislature that reflects the balance of parties that the electorate votes for than first past the post (FPP) or PB. BUT what the recent provincial referendum tells us is that PR does not represent the kind of electoral reform that Canadians are comfortable with. For many in FVC that means we don’t get electoral reform. BUT PR is not the only form of electoral reform possible—not the only balloting process that would give us a more democratic legislature than FPP.

Despite the energy that the Liberal Party of BC put into supporting FPP, no party in Canada—including the BC Liberals—would consider electing their leader by FPP. Under FPP if there were five people running to be the leader of the party, then the party could elect a leader that had the support of 21% of party members—a disaster for them as the results of the same FPP electoral system has been for Canada. All provincial and federal Canadian parties in all provinces elect their leaders based on a form of PB—which includes runoff elections. Thus they end up with a leader that reflects the wisdom of at least the majority of delegates.

Democracy is not about—won’t work as—everyone getting exactly what they want. It is about finding a way that will incorporate a broad spectrum of the community in decisions that affect us all. If we had been more open to the idea of listening to the needs and vision of others as well as to what we believe is the optimal path, the last federal election would have been the last election under FFP as Trudeau told us he is willing to implement electoral reform that reflects the will of the majority–PB. And if PB had been on the BC electoral reform ballot we would not be going into the next provincial election with the same old divisive, “old boys” favoring, FPP.

Under PB 40% of the Ontario electorate would not have elected a party like Doug Ford’s tin-pot corporatists on the exegesis of a progressive majority divided between two parties. Under PB the Ontario NDP would have formed a progressive government in coalition with the Ontario Liberal Party.

All those years of the Harper government dismantling social justice and environmental well being legislation would never have happened under PB. If PB had been on the ballot there could have been no argument “It’s too complicated”—every party in Canada is using it to select their leaders under this simple runoff election principle. We could have won a form of electoral reform simply by making the tent large enough to hold more than just the hard to understand optimal.

But I think there is yet more and more pressing issues we can/must learn from the failed BC electoral reform referendum than just the need to cut social media down to human size and the urgent need to grow our political tent to include those who have values that are like but not exactly our values.

On December 21 Crawford Kilian posted a most thoughtful and provocative article on The Tyee arguing that as a consequence of the failed BC electoral reform referendum the BC NDP and BC Green Party need to merge—otherwise we will the see the divisions which defeated electoral reform once again elect the corporatist BC Liberal Party to dismantle the good that a few years of BCNDP government supported by the BC Greens has been able to accomplish.

While it is possible to point to this issue or that and say, “See there I didn’t get all I want from the Green Party Supported NDP BC government. While what we have is far short of perfect, it is far better than under the Liberals. We have big money out of BC politics (huge!) We have forest management returned to managers who represent the interests of British Columbians in a healthy forest that gives returns to British Columbians for the long term. We have a government that believes government is there to serve all citizens rather than just the wealthy few and corporations are there to serve the people of BC rather than just distant shareholders. We have government that believes in and supports our public health care system and our public education system. It is not perfect but it is a lot better than the corruption that was raiding the public coffers and our public resources. We will, at long last, have an Accessible BC act to ensure access to services and a dignified life to all BC residents.

If the progressive vote is divided in the next provincial election the Liberals will be returned to power and all the good of a few progressive years will be dismantled.

My gosh, when the right wing vote was divided between parties like the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives, it didn’t take long for the divided right to realize that divided they remained in opposition, united they could from government and start enacting their social and political right wing agenda—Thus the end of the progressive in the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the beginning of the right wing Conservative Party of Canada.

If the rightwing corporatist parties can come together to empower their socially and environmentally destructive agenda why can’t progressive people come together to work for a more just and environmentally sound society—province in this case?

Did not Greens and New Democrats come together not just in the legislature but on a person to person level in working to win the electoral reform referendum? Could we not work together on other efforts for a more just, sustaining and sustainable province?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I would like to hear from you about what you think are the possibilities for the NDP and Greens in this province to either merge as the PCs and Alliance did federally and as the Liberals and Social Credit did in this province? If not merge how could the two parties work together electorally for the mutual good of people and land in our beautiful province? I have some ideas but that wasn’t a rhetorical question. I would like to hear what you think and then I will add all my thoughts into the mix and maybe end up bringing people together to talk together about “enlarging the tent” and empowering our progressive values in this beautiful province.  You can write me at ngreynoldsng@gmail.com or—better still—share your thoughts with the readership by adding your ideas to the comments section of this post.


Norm Reynolds