Libs Win: Election 2009 Post-mortem

Maybe it was naive to think this election would finally get British Columbians behind some cardboard voting screens, but at a dismal 52 per cent voting turnout yesterday (down eight from the last vote) it looks like the same old story.

Still, it feels like it should have been different in this election. Our politicians seemed to do slightly better this time around at giving us things to vote for: the carbon tax, run-of-river power plants, minimum wage, elderly care beds. There was ample opportunity to get behind some issues, and not just the (shudder) personalities. But I guess the problem with policies is that the ones you like aren’t always conveniently lumped into a single party. What about the British Columbians who want to see the minimum wage go up and a restoration of our gutted social services but also like the idea of a carbon tax? What about those of us who want a business-friendly government to help us through the recession, are open to alternative power generation but feel ashamed at a province that has the highest poverty rates in the country and no poverty-reduction plans other than one that says, “The market will sort it out.” Tough choices.

And on top of that, much of the political rhetoric we’ve been swimming in for the last several week was why we should feel outraged, terrified and ashamed about whatever the other guy’s policies are – reasons to vote against things, not for things.

And then there’s the system itself. For all the things that can be said about the first-past-the-post electoral system, it does render a heck of a lot of votes worthless. The message many of us seem to take away from it is, If you’re not in the majority, you might as well stay home. Hell, I vote in arguably the safest NDP riding in the province (Vancouver – Mount Pleasant); I have as much an excuse to stay home as anyone. Except this time. This time I had a chance to change the entire system, to get away from a voting scheme that seems to discourage most of us from participating. Based on past elections and polling, you kind of know whether your riding’s vote it a sure thing or not, but no one knew how close the referendum would be. Not that close, apparently, with first-past-the-post stomping single-transferable-vote in the per-riding as well as the popular vote (61 per cent versus 39 per cent).

Maybe it was just too confusing a proposition, or maybe just too radical a shift for a conservative population in tough times. Or maybe it’s simply that the portion of the population that is unhappy with the electoral system doesn’t vote to begin with. Frankly, I think most British Columbians would have been much more comfortable voting against first-past-the-post than they were voting for a poorly understood alternative. In fact, based on the conflicting platform choices we were left with among the parties, it might have felt good if we could have voted against parties rather than for them, deciding a government based on who has the fewest negative votes.

It’s just a fact of life that choosing what you like is far more difficult than choosing what you don’t like. And who said an election should be easy? But to end this blog on a positive, here’s another thought: maybe our lack of positive choices is a sign that, on the whole, we already have most of what we want.