Referendum on electoral reform is bound to end badly for B.C.

The municipal campaign was truly draining and frustrating to watch: too many choices, too many new people to assess, too little time to sort it through.

Now, with a dozen rookie mayors and hundreds of new councillors, what will it be? Chaos or paralysis?

But the ballot box is nothing – nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing – next to what will hit us next in the mailbox.

We are lurching, wobbling, staggering, somewhat blindly and quite deafly, into the fog of conscious confusion and – to be uncharitable, if I may – deliberate under-information that calls itself the 2018 Referendum on Electoral Reform.

I cannot see this running or ending well. The campaign has the reflective depth of Twitter on a drunk Friday night.

The real campaign starts this week, when households start receiving their ballots to mail back by the end of November. But it’s an absurd and insulting process: too soon, too short, too vague, leaving too many open questions and too many important answers to legislators who will be given the political equivalent of a blank cheque.

Sadly, cynically, it is not textbook political reform as much as it is playbook NDP-Green politics. This isn’t an enlightened political class seeking a wiser way but an expedient stunt to keep the Andrew Weaver Trio from pulling out of the NDP Ensemble. On the basis of current standings and polls, it appears to perpetuate the status quo of a left-of-centre coalition.

I suspect there might be tweaks on the first past the post system that would improve upon our too-polarized legislature, but I see nothing in the referendum proposals to assist credibly in that goal.

I see mainly negatives.

It will create supersized ridings that will lose even more connection with communities.

It will confer power on people not directly elected but appointed by their parties, who might not live in and thus understand ridings they purportedly represent.

It will create more expensive government as coalitions are built upon pet issues and projects that must be economically pieced and held together.

It will engender regular post-election periods of political stasis as these coalitions are assembled to then generate legislation.

It will permit the populous Lower Mainland to essentially determine the composition of the provincial legislature.

I could go on.

The ballots are themselves ridiculous. Even if you vote against the prospect of proportional representation (PR), you are then asked to choose among the three options you turned down.

This is somewhat like saying: OK, you say you don’t like hockey, but which seats in the arena are you buying? Or, more bluntly, if you’re going to lose, how would you like us to win?

I have academic friends who are PR supporters, but I think they’re being used by the political professionals. This is little more than pumping the tires of a three-person caucus to keep the government afloat. Indeed, it represents the most crass feature of any minority government: the political payoff to be propped. Do we really want this?

Let’s be honest: everyone is pursuing self-interest. The powerful don’t want to relinquish; the non-powerful sense the opportunity to get in the driver’s seat. But this hasty, hazy process is not the way to reflect upon a system that has served us, even if we considered it flawed.

If we as a society wish to think about redistributing power, then let’s get a good, hard look at doing so. Let’s require a certain turnout and support for the initiative in every region so there is something approaching concurrence, if not consensus. Let’s have a question on a clear concept, not three options upon which we would trade our political system for future considerations by a legislative committee and cabinet.

And, if coalition governments are so great, how about if we see if the one we’ve newly received is durable, functional and competent, perhaps even through an economic cycle? It’s been ages since we’ve had one, so let’s test drive it awhile before deciding if it’s the model we wish to keep.

In the end, I’m uneasy with the idea of rewarding runners-up with the same prize as the winners. I think you should outright earn the gold, not be awarded equal-value participation medals.

I think we are better than this, B.C. •

Kirk LaPointe is the editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.