Proportional Representation Best Reflects the Will of the People: A Debate on BC’s Electoral Future

2018, Democracy

This fall, British Columbians have the chance to shape the future of provincial elections. A mail-in referendum ballot asks if we should keep the current first past the post system, or reform our electoral process and implement one of three types of proportional representation.

To get engaged and inform your vote, please join us for an evening of discussion about B.C.’s electoral future. During this Oxford-style debate moderated by Nancy Olewiler, Professor and Director, SFU School of Public Policy, hear from two teams of experts who will argue for and against changes to voting systems in the province, and explain how the results of the referendum affect representation in B.C. 

Is it time to change how we vote? Join us on November 15 to listen, learn and decide for yourself before casting your referendum ballot.

Thu, 15 Nov 2018

7:00 p.m. (PT)

SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts

149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver

We respectfully acknowledge that this event takes place on the Unceded, Traditional, Ancestral Territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ, and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm First Nations.

Meet your moderator

Nancy Olewiler is an economist, Director of, and Professor in the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University. Her PhD is in economics from the University of British Columbia. Nancy’s areas of research focus on public policy, including energy and climate policy, regulation and risk, and transportation. Nancy has served on the Board of Directors of BC Hydro, Powertech, and TransLink (and its Chair from 2011 to 2013), is on Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, is a member of the Climate Solutions Clean Growth council for BC, on the board of Technical Safety BC, and is Chair of the Macroeconomic Accounts Advisory Committee for Statistics Canada.

Meet your debaters


Stuart Parker teaches International Studies and History at SFU and serves as president of Los Altos Institute. He has been working for proportional representation since 1994, serving as a director of Fair Vote Canada, Fair Voting BC, Fair Vote Ontario, the Movement for Voter Equality and Toronto Democracy Initiative, serving on the steering committee of the Yes campaign in the 1996 Vancouver, 2007 Ontario and 2005 and 2009 BC referenda on proportional representation. Former leader of the BC Green Party, Stuart is not currently affiliated with any national or provincial party.

Chuka Ejeckam is a graduate student in political science at the University of British Columbia. His work focuses on drug policy and inequality, the latter both political and economic. Chuka holds a research position with the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at UBC, as well as a contract research position with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He has also worked with the Broadbent Institute.

Points in Support of the Motion:

  • Proportional representation more directly translates voters' choices into legislative seats, and so better reflects citizens' votes and political preferences.
  • Proportional representation has been shown to increase voter turnout, demonstrating a capacity to deepen democratic engagement.
  • Proportional representation prevents parties from attaining majority-level political power despite having only plurality- or minority-level support among the public.


Adam Goldenberg is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Toronto and a trial and appellate lawyer at McCarthy Tétrault LLP. He has served as a Law Clerk to the Chief Justice of Canada and to the judges of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, as Chief Speechwriter to the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, and as a senior political aide in the Government of Ontario. He is a contributor to CBC TV, Maclean’s magazine, and Toronto’s NewsTalk 1010 radio. Born and raised in Vancouver, Adam received his law degree from Yale and holds an undergraduate degree with high honours from Harvard.

Aubin Calvert holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of British Columbia. Her scholarship focused on democratic theory and political communication. Aubin now practices administrative law and commercial litigation at Hunter Litigation Chambers in Vancouver. Before joining Hunter Litigation Chambers, Aubin served as a law clerk to Chief Justice Richard Wagner of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Points Against the Motion:

  • Democracy is best served when voters choose between governing agendas, not ideologies. First Past The Post forces mainstream political parties to work out compromises with a broad base of potential supporters before an election. Proportional Representation leaves those compromises to be worked out between partisan blocs, long after the polls close, in the coalition-making process. Voters in our current system know what their options are — imperfect as they may be — when they cast their ballots. Proportional representation denies voters a say over the inevitable trade-offs that will make up the governing agenda.
  • Proportional Representation makes politicians beholden to parties, not voters. Someone who is elected on the strength of their support within a political organization, or among a core “base” of voters, will not be in office because they reflect the will of the electorate; they will be in office to reflect the will of their party and its most committed — and thus likely most polarized — supporters. The incentives that are inherent in proportional voting systems strengthen elected officials’ partisan loyalty at the expense of good representation for communities.
  • The most important moment in any democracy is when the will of the electorate is to change the direction of the government. First Past The Post empowers voters to kick an incumbent government out of office, to sweep stale political movements into oblivion, and to reshape the politics of their province in a single election. Proportional Representation, by contrast, operates as a brake on political change. Parties who have overstayed their welcome can remain in office by finagling their way into a governing coalition. Politicians who are tainted by scandal or poor performance can keep their jobs by the grace of their political party. Representation is not simply a matter of the legislature’s aggregate ideological profile; it requires a system that allows governments to be held to account. First Past The Post does this more effectively than does Proportional Representation.