Interview with Adriane Carr, Proponent of the Pro-Rep Initiative
GD: What made you decide to organize this initiative?
The 2001 BC election results. The 42 percent of British Columbians who did not vote for the BC Liberals have little or no representation and that’s unfair. I’ve come to the conclusion that changing our electoral system is the only way to get a more fair, more representative and better democracy in BC. The Initiative that I’ve put forward under BC’s Recall and Initiative Act is the only way that citizens can actually force government to consider this kind of change.
GD: You went to New Zealand recently, to find out more about their system. What did you learn?
People in New Zealand like their new electoral system. It’s a Pro Rep system very similar to the one I’m proposing for BC. People were frustrated with both the left-wing and right-wing governments that passed social and economic reforms that turned out to be a disaster for the vast majority of citizens. So, in 1993, after years of deliberation, they voted in a mixed proportional representation system and governments have improved since then.
GD: What made you choose the Mixed Member Proportional system, as opposed to some other system?
It combines the advantages of local representation and proportionality - where party seats are proportional to popular vote. Where it’s in place - like New Zealand, Germany and Denmark - it’s working well. It’s resulted in more women and minorities being elected, more cooperation between parties in the development of legislation, and higher voter turnouts, because people feel their votes really count.
GD: What is it going to take to pull this off?
Lots of volunteer canvassers, lots of public education, a lot more money than we’ve got so far in the campaign, superb organizing and at least 225,000 citizens throughout BC signing the petition.
GD: Is anyone opposing your initiative?
Any group wanting to mount an opposition campaign has to register with Elections BC by April 13th, and so far no one has. There are some people sitting on the sidelines subtly trying to undermine the campaign by saying it’s the wrong time or the wrong Proponent or the wrong system. In New Zealand they told me that the opponents to Pro Rep were mostly the big corporations who liked their control in the first-past-the-post system and the politicians who would rather have all of the power some of the time than share some of the power most of the time.
GD: If you succeed, what happens next?
A standing committee of government decides one of two things: either put my bill for Proportional Representation to a non-binding province-wide referendum, or give it first reading in the Legislature. Because the referendum route under this act is non-binding, I’d prefer that the government give my bill first reading, refer it to the public for input, and then put it to a binding referendum so that the decision about adopting a new electoral system is truly placed in the hands of BC voters.
GD: Do you think British Columbians want a change, or are we basically satisfied with the voting system we have?
I think the majority of British Columbians are frustrated with our system of polarized politics, unfair election results and the government’s abuse of power. Youth, in particular, are cynical and opting out of even registering to vote. British Columbians definitely want change. Over 80 percent have polled in support of switching to Proportional Representation.
GD: Are the NDP showing any interest in your initiative?
I know that lots of NDP members are signing up to become canvassers because they’re letting me know who they are. The NDP Leader has sent a letter to the Premier recommending a Commission to look into electoral reform - something I believe the Liberal government has already promised to do and a process that my Initiative could well lead into.
GD: What about the other parties, the smaller ones?
The two parties that have publicly declared their support for this initiative so far are the Green Party (BC’s third largest party) and the Unity Party. These parties share little in their platforms except electoral reform, but I think it’s great that they’re willing to work together on something they agree is good for BC.
GD: From your experience, does proportional representation change the way in which governments and oppositions operate?
Absolutely. It fosters more cooperation and less adversarial politics. Every party is forced to run on its platform and willingness to work with others instead of the negative campaigns that focus on convincing voters why the other guys are so bad.
GD: How are you going to get the signatures you need in BC’s more rural areas?
I think people in rural BC are as keen as anyone to see a fair and more representative voting system. To get signatures we need canvassers. It would be great to get canvassers in every little town and reserve. I’m talking to people within unions like the Nurses union and Teachers union, because they have members everywhere. If we raise the funds, we’ll put ads in all the local papers. I’m prepared to go on the road and visit every part of BC. We’ll have to use lots of different strategies.