Letter: proportional representation means the end of majority governments – and big accomplishments

Former chair of B.C. Hydro weighs in on PR

Editor,

From increasing tensions in the United States, to a refugee crisis in Europe, and populism and protectionism on the march across the world, we’ve never been more fortunate to be Canadians and British Columbians. One of the greatest strengths of our society – and our success – has been our democracy. For almost 150 years, our system has functioned extremely well.

Canadians know this on an instinctive level. It’s why we take such pride in the praise, admiration, and even envy we regularly see from around the world. Canada is viewed as a politically safe, stable democracy, that not only creates a great place to live, but increasingly, it’s a competitive advantage.

It’s an old cliché, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And our democracy is the furthest thing possible from “broke.” On the contrary, it’s simple, stable, and successful. Yes, it sometimes leads to unique scenarios, like in 2001, where the opposition was reduced to two seats, or last year, where the balance of power was held by the party that finished a very distant third. But on the whole, our system tends to create stable majority governments, with the mandate and ability to get things done.

Right now, that ability to get things done is at risk.

Whatever the other supposed merits of proportional representation, one aspect in particular isn’t getting enough attention: the tendency to create weak minority and coalition governments. Proportional representation campaigners not only admit this, but view it as a key feature.

How many of this province’s great accomplishments would have been possible under a minority government?

Consider touchstones like Expo 86, BC Ferries, the Agricultural Land Reserve, ICBC, BC Hydro, the 2010 Olympics, the Coquihalla Highway, Canada’s first carbon tax, and more. You may support some and not others, but they were all contentious at the time. Under minority governments, it’s likely most, and possibly all, would never have seen the light of day.

It’s not because different parties might “win,” or priorities might change. It’s because a perpetual minority government is like a publicly-traded company where investors focus on short-term gains at the expense of long-term planning and foresight – and quite often change course on the slightest pretext.

All too often, minority governments are forced into short-term dealmaking, react to vocal special interests, and make policy on the fly. For example, the 2010 Olympic bid would have collapsed in the face of noisy protests that represented a fraction of a fraction of British Columbians. The Agricultural Land Reserve would never have been created, or would have been greatly watered down. And if my father didn’t have a strong majority, Expo 86 would have been collateral damage in the ongoing conflict between unions and private contractors.

Majority governments have the ability to develop a long-term vision, and do the right thing for the right reasons. Minority governments have no choice but to go where the noise is.

We have enough noise in this province. What we need is the vision to see past the current noise, and the wisdom to protect the democracy that makes us the envy of the world.

Brad Bennett, former chair of BC Hydro

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