Small Green Party may wield big power in B.C.

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Appeared in the Winnipeg Sun, July 11, 2017

As some of the dust settles in Victoria, the alliance between Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver (pictured above left) and John Horgan (right), premier-designate and NDP Leader, remains central for the new government in British Columbia.

Political alliances, however, are not formed on good graces. Weaver has some well-publicized demands, which reportedly include official party status for the Greens (who only hold three seats) and a change to a proportional representation (PR) electoral system.

Unsurprisingly, these demands help the Green Party.

A PR electoral system elects members based on the proportion of votes each party receives. PR countries are often governed by coalitions because it’s nearly impossible under this system for one party to garner a majority of the votes. For example, one recent analysis found that between 2000 and 2015, more than 80 per cent of elections in advanced democracies with PR electoral rules resulted in coalition governments.

Some see this as a benefit because it allows for a greater diversity of views to be represented in government. But while even minority governments elected under our current system (First-Past-The-Post) parties often don’t form formal coalitions, the idea that we are not regularly governed by coalitions is false. Big tent parties such as the Liberals, Conservatives and even the NDP are comprised of internal coalitions of various groups. In B.C. while Christy Clark’s party is called Liberal in name, it’s actually a coalition of Liberals, federal Conservatives and Social Credit supporters.

Voters in B.C. know this and for the past 16 years consented to this internal coalition in each election.

PR systems, on the other hand, don’t require this kind of compromise because the way the votes are counted rewards small, even fringe parties often with single issues at the expense of the big tent parties. But to govern, the large parties must gain the support of smaller parties by giving into some of the preferred policies of those smaller parties.

Consequently, voters of smaller parties are empowered disproportionately at the expense of the majority of voters who tend to vote for one of a few main parties. In B.C., more than 80 per cent of voters did not vote for the Green Party and yet the Green Party may now dictate changes to a system as fundamental as the way British Columbians elect their political representatives.

For example, one area of policy the Green Party might push for is the province’s carbon tax. The Green Party recommended increasing the tax to $70 per tonne by 2021 compared to the current $30 per tonne. This is in contrast to the old Liberal plan to freeze the carbon tax and the NDP plan to increase it to $50 per tonne by 2022.

Only time will tell what effect an NDP/Green pact will have on policy in B.C. But if the Green’s strong stance on the environment finds its way into the policies of the NDP government, propped up by the Greens, many British Columbians may not get what they voted for.

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