Electing members of a Parliament is not an end in itself. These persons
chosen in some manner may assemble and offer their opinions at chosen times
but the purpose of choosing members is to permit the formation of a government
from amongst those MLAs supported by the voters.
Debate in the legislative assembly may be entertaining, enlightening and
important but unless someone is listening and in authority to act on the
matters discussed and decided then there is little purpose of having members.
Therefore a government must be created from among the members chosen. The
best manner for a government to be chosen is for a party to have a majority
of seats in the house and be called upon to form a government and then
provide the needed leadership required to conduct public business.
Proportional representation tends to foster minority government and history
would suggest most citizens do not want minority government. British Columbia
elections have been held along party lines since 1903 and there have been
only three instances of a minority government resulting from a general
election in 1924, 1941 and 1952. If the voters of British Columbia believed
minority government was the preferred option then the results of those
elections would reflect that opinion. Of the 28 governments elected since
1903 twenty five have been majorities.
Coalition governments leave much to be desired. Too often a small faction
can hold the balance of power and use that to secure objectives considered
important or urgent by a small number of people but not always in the best
interest of the general public.
Since 1903 about 800 British Columbians have been successful in their quest
for a seat in the legislative assembly of our province. An examination
of those chosen shows a record of community involvement, elected or otherwise,
for the most part. Traditionally, among the more established political
parties, successful candidates must submit to a rigorous process beginning
with the recruitment of supporters within the constituency organization
then to the nomination meeting and from there to the election itself. Often
the process may require commitment for a couple of years before the election.
During that time these hopeful residents of British Columbia will submit
to close scrutiny by their peers the media and ultimately the voter. Only
those with a desire to serve all of the people in the riding are most often
successful. The process soon eliminates those that might be involved as
a lark or a sudden impulse. While not infallible it is a good test to determine
sincerity and commitment of candidates.
In a democratic society it is important to avoid either the tyranny of
the majority or the tyranny of the minority. Population numbers provide
the Greater Vancouver area with the majority of seats in any provincial
legislature. That population and its power should be restricted to the
greater Vancouver area. Any residual voters preference should not find
its way into outlying constituencies where the preference of residents
may not be consistent with those within a major metropolitan area.
It is important for residents to have a sense of community and control
over the results of an election within their riding. The determination
of a representative should be in the hands of the voters within their electoral
boundaries. British Columbia is made up of communities, large or small,
and the attitudes vary greater depending upon their choice of location.
Do not impose an outside influence on our choice of choosing our representative.
There always will be those that choose to march to the beat of their own
drummer. Just because these extreme attitudes exist does mean we should
be subjected to their inclusion as part of our government system. Our tradition
suggests minority points of view and extreme attitudes often can find a
place within established political parties. Should others choose to believe
only they have the answers then they are destined to be apart and for the
most part alone.
Some jurisdictions have opted for different methods of choosing their representatives
for a myriad of reasons over time. Their experiences are relative to their
needs but not to the needs of British Columbia. Our system has served us
well for more than a century. Those that participated in the political
world of our province over those years were not without knowledge and wisdom.
Citizens of British Columbia have been choosing their representatives for
the most part over 133 years by permitting the candidate with the greatest
support in a riding to represent the residents in Victoria.
The system was adopted from our federal system of choosing MPs and before
than the traditional method of elected members in the United Kingdom. Over
the centuries many minds have considered the process and while a multitude
of changes have occurred relating to the details of the election laws the
concept of having a winner as chosen by the people within a geographical
area has remained constant.
Would a system that incorporates the requirement of a majority of votes
cast in a riding before a candidate is said to be elected improve our system?
We have experienced the results of such an experiment under the alternative
voting system method in 1952 and again in 1953. It was discarded.
If we are to maintain confidence in our system and government then the
people of the province must accept the election results. There will always
be those wishing to keep the political wars on fire between elections and
they have the right so to do. It is important that citizens of British
Columbia, potential investors to our province and those with whom the province
does business including the public service have a period of time during
which there is stability and predictability. When an election campaign
is over it should be over and the chosen government must get on with the
For all these reasons I support the present first past the post system
and oppose any change to proportional representation.
Jim Nielsen served for eleven years as MLA for Richmond in the British
Columbia Legislature. He is a former Minister of the Environment, Minister
of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Minister of Health and Minister of Social
Services. A journalist and member of the Peachland Council he addressed
the British Columbia Citizens Assembly at its regional hearings in Kelowna
on June 24, 2004 and was one of nine persons selected to return and address
the entire Assembly. This article is a slightly revised version of his
address to the Citizens' Assembly on September 11, 2004.