First past the post fix-it guide to a better electoral reform option

When your computer doesn’t function quickly, you upgrade its software. When your car doesn’t run smoothly, you repair the engine. You don’t throw them out.

So let’s agree, our rusty, dusty, fusty electoral system can use a tune-up, too. But instead we have been led into a false choice of the existing first past the post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR).

There is a much better third option: fix what we have.

But no.

Rather than pursue simpler solutions, we are breathlessly into a bass-ackwards BC NDP move – mail-in ballots arrived before a campaign of big questions and few answers – to appease the power-ravenous Green triumvirate and possibly hurtle us into a two-term test drive of what might be a lemon. The rush is unseemly and suspicious.

What would be better is betterment of the current system to improve engagement, transparency and relevance.

Like:

1. It’s 2018, my personal information is all over the internet, and I am in the clutches of e-commerce, so why can’t I vote online yet? Wouldn’t that increase voter participation and get a clearer picture of who supports whom? Before we add representatives, we would be better off adding voters.

2. While we’re on that topic, why not require people to vote? If we are keen on electoral reform, let’s start with the electorate. Before we change systems, shouldn’t we make voting mandatory – maybe through a small tax break to voters – to see what result we would get?

3. If we’re so concerned about representation, why not start by increasing the number of ridings so your MLA is more likely to live closer to you and more reflect the political sentiments of you and your neighbours?

4. Why must there be narrowly focused voting periods? Why just limited advanced polls and long lineups on the final day? If the PR referendum takes in ballots over five weeks, why not a one-week provincial election?

5. Why do we need a full election every four years? Why not partial elections every two or three years to capture shifts in our politics or send signals to leaders that they are either on track or off course? Isn’t that the whole point of this week’s mid-terms in the U.S.?

6. How about term limits to ensure greater turnover and succession in our system and limit incumbent advantages? Or, if we’re worried about “safe seats” that elect the same party again and again, use technology to impartially tweak electoral boundaries between elections, as some political innovators have suggested.

7. If we are serious about power-sharing across party lines, then why not require certain legislative measures to enjoy wider support than just the governing party’s? Certain financial bills, interprovincial trade deals, laws on human rights and measures for Indigenous reconciliation would benefit from cross-party input and support, and that would represent a broader perspective than any coalition’s.

8. At its core, most every government seems secretive and miserly with information. Why not open more government deliberations through more generous and rigorous freedom of information laws and routine disclosures? Wouldn’t that be a more formidable application of accountability than any new sprawl of political representation? Indeed, wouldn’t coalitions create even more collusive secrecy?

9. Why not require candidates to be nominated by their riding associations and live in those ridings so there is a clearer guarantee of local representation?

10. There is a reason it is called question period, not answer period, probably because it is almost absurdly dysfunctional and a theatrical fraud. Why not require ministers to answer questions by introducing – and, yes, more aggressively using and enforcing – a provincial version of the written questions and answers of the parliamentary Order Paper? Sure, it will be slow, but even slow answers would be better than the non-answers we get.

There is indeed a system to fix, but not one to replace – at least, not before we rev up the engine and update the operating system. 

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