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Proportional Representation Leads to More Fair and Inclusive Government–Letter to the Editor for PR by Rev Steven Epperson

Reverend Epperson submitted the following letter to several newspapers.  It is posted here for interested members of the congregation.

Proportional representation leads to more fair and inclusive government
By Reverend Steven Epperson, Unitarian Church of Vancouver

I want to add my support to those individuals and groups, including the BC Conference of The United Church of Canada, in their endorsement for the proportional representation (PR)  option in the electoral reform referendum in British Columbia.  Advocacy for the practice of “the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large” has been a bedrock principle of the Unitarian religious tradition throughout its nearly 500 year-long history.

Under our current First Past the Post (FPTP)—or “winner-take-all” voting system—the party with the most seats can form a government even if it received a minority of the popular vote. That means, in effect, that political parties win 100 per cent of governing power, even if they received only 40 per cent or less of the vote. Thus 60 plus percent of votes are disregarded, an outcome which can foster resentment and alienation – as was well noted by former Liberal premier Christy Clark in 2009.

The main change, which is found in all three PR options in our ballots, is that the percentage of votes should bring the percentage of seats. It is basic common sense, apart from some details of process, and the bedrock principle is sound.  That is why about 90 other democracies in the world use PR, including Commonwealth entities such as Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

This topic should not be a partisan one – although regrettably it has become so – because all the B.C. parties have suffered unjustly under the FPTP system (such as the B.C. Liberals in 1996). The “No to PR” campaign mostly uses negative attacks on the referendum process instead of defending its electoral status quo, raising the question: Is it able to?

The No campaign slogan hails FPTP as “Simple, Stable and Successful.”  Where is any mention of democracy there?  Too often the most “simple” and “stable” systems are autocracies.  And “successful”—for whom, exactly? The majority of voters, or for those like the “No” side which condescendingly – and wrongly – asserts that PR is “too complex and confusing,” and resorts to video ads of goose-stepping soldiers to confuse and scare B.C. voters?  This last outcome would be prevented by the PR rule that fringe parties must gain at least five percent of the vote, while their combined total is now usually at less than one percent. In fact, the greater inclusivity of the PR system may assist in reconciliation with our aboriginal peoples.

People often express to me their astonishment over the US voting system with its anti-democratic, antiquated Electoral College that enabled the current president to win despite winning 2.8 million fewer votes than his rival.  Isn’t our own FPTP, winner-take-all voting system – designed in 13th century Britain to fit a two party system – similarly antiquated?

Think of how our federal Conservatives in 1988, with 43 percent of the popular vote, formed a “majority” government and then rammed the Free Trade Agreement through Parliament, despite being opposed by parties supported by 57 percent of the population. In a different FPTP twist, here in B.C., think of how the Liberals won 58 per cent of the vote in 2001—a majority to be sure—yet they gained every legislative seat except two because of FPTP.  This left the province with no official opposition for four years.  Such results could happen again under the old system.

I worry about the long-term effects of FPTP’s winner-take-all politics on our young people and future generations.  If having voted with a majority, their votes are then disregarded as a result of our FPTP system leading to “false majority” governments, they will feel that their votes are wasted; they may understandably conclude they are in effect disenfranchised, and wonder: why bother to vote at all?

Let us learn about different electoral systems and refuse patronizing claims that these are “too complex” for us to understand.  Trustworthy information is available in the Elections BC booklets and website. The four options in the referendum are also explained in your ballot package.  Moreover, if voters do not like how a new PR system works out in practice, you can vote to reverse it in the second B.C. referendum, that is, you can “try it before you buy it.”

I will be voting for Proportional Representation.  It is a step on Canada’s path to political maturity, and towards a more fair, inclusive and accountable government.

Rev. Dr. Steven Epperson

Unitarian Church of Vancouver

949 West 49th Avenue

Vancouver, BC V5Z 2T1

References:

Canadian Unitarian Council Resolution on Imagine Democracy

United Church of Canada, BC Conference Statement

United Church Supports Proportional Representation for Justice

Advent: Science and Religion Sermons

Science and Religion Sermon

Rev. Epperson has preached a sermon on science and its insights that challenge and nourish our religion for the first Sunday in Advent. Always well-researched and thought-provoking, here are some examples.

First Advent Sunday Services 2002-17

2002 Evolution

2003 Birth of the Moon

2004 Life from the Seas

2005 Plate Tectonics

2006 Size of the Universe/Sea of Knowledge

2007 Cell: Smallest Living Thing

2008 The Astonishing Atom

2009 Photosynthesis

2010 The Feeling Brain

2011 Teenage Brain

2012 View from the Center of the Universe

2013 The Advent of Us: How We Became Human

2014 On Human Consciousness and Goodness

2015 A Dangerous “Advent?”

2016 The Important Stuff is Invisible

2017 The Invention of Air

Stand Up to Racism

From Rev. Steven Epperson, Parish Minister

Photo and story from the UUA President

Stand Up to Racism Metro Vancouver

Please join me at the anti-racism rally at City Hall this Saturday sponsored by Stand Up to Racism Metro Vancouver. The rally begins at 12:45 pm.

(Facebook Event click here.)

Thanks, Steven

Some thought on “False Equivalence”  (Rev. Steven Epperson)

Given what many of us have been reading/seeing in the media this past week regarding events in Charlottesville, Virginia , I wanted to share some thoughts. On Tuesday, August 15th, the sitting President of the United States said: “You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”   Subsequently, I’ve read the expression “false equivalence” to describe his remarks.

When I hear the expression “false equivalence,” the first thing that comes to mind is messed up ways of thinking/reasoning.  False equivalence is a mistaken belief that since two very different things (or arguments) may share a common trait that means they are basically similar/equal.

Examples:

1)            A dog race is about to start.  The two hounds running (a greyhound and a dachshund) are equal favorites to win. Ridiculous? Yes. That’s false equivalence at work where sharing a trait—dogs that are hounds—means there are no other essential differences between them. Under false equivalence, each has an equal chance to win the race.

2)            “Gang bangers cover their heads with hoodies.  Nuns cover their heads with habits.  Therefore, nuns are no better than gang bangers.”  Just because both cover their heads does not necessarily mean they are equally as likely to rob a gas station at gunpoint.

3)            Racism says other races are essentially different.  Anti-racism says other races are not essentially different.  False equivalence states both are absolutist claims. Therefore, there is no difference between them.  Put simply, this mistaken way of thinking/arguing claims apples and oranges are the same fruit simply because they both have seeds.

Examples of false equivalence are seemingly without end (e.g. “creationism and evolution both explain how we got here, so teach both sides,” etc, etc.).  False equivalence is contributing to a slippery world of BS and “truthiness.”   In fact, far-right protesters went to Charlottesville primed for violence in word and act; most counter-protesters adopted an entirely defensive posture. An adult should know the difference.

Let’s value and use our Unitarian Principle of a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning;” that search means knowing there’s a difference between an apple and an orange, a neo-Nazi and an antifascist, and that the difference means something; that it matters.

 


Post-Election Potluck and Conversation

An Invitation from Rev. Steven Epperson to UCV members and friends:

Hewett Hall, Saturday, November 12, 2016 6-8:30 pm

Given the outcome of the elections in the States on Tuesday, and the thoughts and feelings many of us may be experiencing, I thought it would be helpful to gather for some food and conversation. Bring a dish to share and your good selves.  I will be there and glad to be in the company of any and all who wish to show up.

In the meantime, some thoughts borrowed from Bruce Levine that my partner shared with our Stateside families:

Though dark thoughts, feelings and tears are reasonable responses to difficult circumstances and horrible news, there are other strategies we can bring forward: a thoughtful detachment in order to see, understand and to bear witness a dark sense of humour collective resistance and cooperation kindness to fellow sufferers and savour those moments of respite that come by focusing on the beauties of nature, and on our children and grandchildren.

My best to all on this grey, drizzly Wednesday morning.  Steven Epperson

From the minister’s workshop … Our Hymnal

The Reverend Dr. Steven Epperson

It may look like a hymnal, this book of ours sitting in the racks in front of you when you come to Sunday service; a book full of “songs of praise, especially to God in Christian worship,” according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. But open it up, and what we’ll see is a commitment to religious pluralism in one song and reading after another. Christian hymns and carols are followed by Islamic poetry; there are songs of harvest and the seasons, and the wisdom of Jewish mystics and Psalms. Buddhist sages are here; so, too, the insights of science and reason; hymns in praise of labouring folk, the interdependent web, and prophetic activists struggling for environmental and social justice. A whole, great, teeming congregation of wisdom from the world’s religions, poets and secular sources is gathered here. We turn to these hymns, this poetry and prose to celebrate our history and belief and to accompany us in times of grief and joy.

All too often our world divides up into grim, distressed religious and secular camps. And because of that, I believe that ours is a crucial experiment. Unitarians seek to practice a frank, respectful cohabitation of plural sensibilities, rituals and ways of being in community. We hope that what follows will be a mutually enriching dialogue, where we learn from and strive to support one another in our search for meaning and spiritual growth. And not for a moment should we forget how important an experiment a pluralistic faith like ours could be for a troubled and divided world.