NZ Gives BC Lesson on Proportional Representation

When New Zealand pitched a switch to proportional representation in the early 1990s, it triggered a wave of conjecture and confusion similar to what British Columbia in Canada is experiencing now.

New Zealanders voted in favour of mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation in 1993, a switch from the first-past-the-post electoral system that BC still uses. Next election, in 1996, voters would cast one vote for a local candidate, but also a second for a party, to decide what proportion of seats each party would have in parliament. Meantime, electoral maps would be redrawn and parties would have to make ranked lists to fill out those second seats with “list MPs” of their choosing.

“Last year’s decision to change New Zealand‘s voting system has turned Kiwi politics into a confusing game of musical chairs as politicians panic over secret maps which chart their route to oblivion,” Agence France-Presse’s Michael Field reported in 1994.

But two decades later, New Zealanders have got used to it, said Jennifer Curtin, a professor and political scientist at the University of Auckland. In fact, 58 per cent were happy enough with the new system in 2011 that they voted in a referendum to keep it.

In New Zealand, the party lists and rankings of the names on them are made public. Curtin said that has proved to be an incentive to make the lists diverse to attract as many voters to the party as possible, which has led to a significant increase in Māori people and women in parliament.

New Zealand’s worry over the political fallout of carving out new electoral maps – now a topic of concern in BC – was handled by an independent commission, which convenes after every census to review and redraw boundaries and consider changing the names of constituencies. BC, too, is proposing an independent electoral boundaries commission.

“They were quite good in not changing too many names, really trying to keep a sense of community,” Curtin said.

Original article by Nick Eagland, Vancouver Sun, June 4, 2018.

Tags: British Columbia (BC)  Jennifer Curtin  mixed-member proportional representation  MMP  Vancouver Sun  

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