Monday, March 14, 2005

Why you should vote ‘yes’in May’s STV referendum

VICTORIA - Here's two quick, satisfying reasons for voting yes in the referendum on a new way of electing MLAs.
First, the NDP and Liberal party types are against the change, a sign that it would benefit people interested in good government, not party politics.
Second, ask yourself one simple question. Could the new single-transferable-vote system be any worse than the current model?
British Columbians get to vote May 17 on whether to switch to a new way of electing MLAs. If enough of us say yes - 60 per cent overall, and a majority in 60 per cent of ridings - the new system will be in place for the 2009 vote.
If you're happy with the current system, you can quit reading. But I can't imagine how you could be. Barely half the eligible voters cast ballots in the 2001 election. Our legislature is wildy unrepresentative - the 197,000 people who voted Green in 2001 have no one to speak for them. Voters complain that their MLAs seem more interested in serving their party than the communities that elected them. Debate is frequently ugly and mindlessly partisan. And B.C. has swung back and forth between two polarized parties for 30 years.
It seems incredible that anyone could argue that the current system is working so well that we shouldn't even consider whether there's a better way.
The question then becomes whether the single-transferable-vote system, recommended by a citizens' assembly of 160 average citizens, offers a better alternative.
Under the new system, there would be fewer, larger ridings, with two to seven MLAs each, depending on their population.
On election day, you would no longer just mark an X beside one candidate, condemning the rest to the rubbish heap. You would rank as many candidates as you liked, in order of preference. When the votes are counted, the results reflect the rankings. (I explained the method in a previous column; it's at www.willcocks.blogspot.com.)
Why is that better?
Right now, you get one choice. If you care about which party forms government, then that drives your vote, and the candidate is largely irrelevant. People who run as independents, or for an alternative party, have little chance of being elected. Nomination contests - often undemocratic and flawed - matter more than the election.
But under the new system, you have a number of choices. In a four-candidate riding, a Liberal supporter might rank three of the party's candidates as the 1, 2 and 3 choices. But if he admired an individual from another party, or felt its voice should be heard, that person might become his fourth choice. Your first choice might be for a probably doomed candidate, because you know your other choices will still count.
It should result in a diverse, representative legislature.
But that's not the only effect. Remember, voters will also rank candidates from the same party, and those rankings will determine who is elected. People who want to vote NDP, for example, now take whatever candidate the party offers. Under the new system party candidates will compete with each other for your support.
The ones who show the greatest understanding of local issues, the highest level of competence - and the willignness to work for local voters, and not the party - will be elected.
A more representative legislature, increased attention to voters' needs and less to the parties' needs, more power for MLAs, less for the party leader - those are pretty good selling points.
And then there's the legislature itself. It would be more diverse, in terms of the individuals involved and the number of parties represented. MLAs would have to be focused on the needs of their communities, and not just their party, if they hoped to be re-elected, and would be encouraged to speak out in support of local interests.
It's alarming to leap into something new (although STV is already proven in other jurisdictions).
But our current system serves us badly. This is a rare chance to try a positive change.
Footnote: More representative legislatures might mean more minority governments. But there's no evidence to suggest any risk of instability, especially in B.C. where the two main parties have strong core support. For more information, see the government information site at www.gov.bc.ca/referendum_info, or call 1-800-668-2800.

6 comments:

Life in Victorola said...

Newly minted STV cheerleader Mr. Willcocks, selectively notes that "the NDP and Liberal party types are against [STV]" (neglecting to also include the Green Party's inconvenient objections). Perhaps he should pay better attention.

He invokes intellectual closure on any anti-STV
position by having us believe that since the big bad
establishment parties are against it, it must surely
follow that STV is good for us. There is simply no
alternative. Where have we heard that patronizing
argument before? Codswallop I say.

If the aim is proportionality, then STV is a poor
cousin to MPP. Under STV, true proportionality is only possible if "there were one electoral district for the whole province." according to Andrew Petter. Mr. Petter goes on to succintly state that "STV requires too great a loss of local representation to achieve too little a gain in proportionality." STV seems to do both jobs badly.

[http://oldfraser.lexi.net/publications/politics_reform/petter.html]

Wait! "Danger Will Robinson!" Petter (if we are to
believe Mr. Willcoks arguments) was one of those NDP weasels, incapable of independent thought, a card carrying member of the left wing apparatchik. How could he possibly vote against big party self-interest?

Petter (gasp!) no fan of FPTP, sees greater
proportionality and effective local representation
under MMP. Other have noted that "MMP achieves
proportionality by design and not by coincidence".

Finally, it is instructive to note that when New
Zealand went through the same exercise they presented voters with a menu of alternative voting options, not just one acadmemic alternative. This choice is too important to be left to any one committee however well meaning.

Here's the ballot (results in brackets) that the New
Zealanders were presented with:

I vote to retain the present First-Past-The-Post
system. [ 15.3% ]

I vote for a change to the voting system. [ 84.7% ]

I vote for the Supplementary Member system (SM)
[ 5.6% ]

I vote for the Single Transferable Vote system (STV) [ 17.4% ]

I vote for the Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP) [70.5% ]

I vote for the Preferential Voting system (PV) [ 6.6% ]


I'd like to choose from a range of alternate voting
options just like I'd like to choose from a range of
alternative political parties. Anything else would be
undemocratic and is the entire point of this exercise. This artificially limited referendum question represents a squandered opportunity for true electoral reform in BC.

Anonymous said...

The choice on May 17th is to either retain the status quo or go with STV. Nothing else is on the ballot.

If STV is passed, we get a review of electoral reform.

If it fails, the issue is off the table for a generation or more.

Now, as to proportionality. MMP does not deliver proportional results, it does not guarantee that the views fo the public are represented in proper proportions. It does nothing to guarantee that we even get a gender equality. All MMP does is provide minor parties with some seats to get into the house. It is only porportional for people that feel party alliegance is the most important value.

STV ensures proportionality through achieving better representation of the public through a fairer voting system that accurately reflects the most popular overall choices of the public.

To use a diet analogy, the status quo is someone eating too much and getting fat. MMP is that person recognizing they are fat and going for stomach stapling operation in the hopes that this artificial quick fix will solve the problem. STV is someone that chooses to eat right and exercise, the best choice.

But, as I said, MMP is not on the ballot, only STV and FPTP are on the ballot. By every measure STV is better than the status quo and there are no ethical reasons to vote no on May 17th

Life in Victorola said...

Anonymous opines:

"The choice on May 17th is to either retain the status quo or go with STV. Nothing else is on
the ballot."

My point exactly. If you propose to change the way people are elected, then present a wider view than a simple committee's suggestion that it is " FPTP vs STV, take or leave it". Sounds just like the same limited "two party" choice we're seeking to improve. Where's the proportionality in representing alternate voting systems? The entire excercise has been handcuffed by limited terms of reference. If NZ could choose from a menu of options, why can't we? Or would it just be too hard for ordinary BCers to make an informed decision? (read the dismissive condescension implicit in the first FAQ in [ http://www.gov.bc.ca/referendum_info/popt/electoral_systems_first_past_the_post/frequently_asked_questions.htm ]

"If STV is passed, we get a review of electoral reform."

What, we don't get STV? What are we voting for then? Do they start up yet another committee?

"Now, as to proportionality. MMP does not deliver
proportional results, it does not guarantee that the
views fo the public are represented in proper
proportions. It does nothing to guarantee that we
even get a gender equality."

Where's your evidence, or should I just take your word for it? The NZ greens came to the precisely opposite conclusion as to proportionality as well affirmative action and found that MMP

•delivers fair representation,
•has improved the proportion of women, Maori and ethnic minorities in parliament,
• retains local representation

[http://www.greens.org.nz/docs/other/000702mmp_sub.htm ]


"All MMP does is provide minor parties with some seats to get into the house. It is only porportional ?for people that feel party alliegance is the most important value."

Why are parties always cast here as the de facto bad guys? They stand for something (even though the Fiberals don't have the guts to call themselves retreaded Socreds, it's all PR my friends) and show strength in numbers. If you don't vote for a party and their principles, what else to you vote for, Ronald Macdonald? "Minor" parties become king makers and legislation is more balanced under minority governments than landslide FPTP assemblies [witness the BC Fiberals legislative bulldozing (aided and abetted by arguably the most nakedly partisan speaker in the house's history) vs Martin's step carefully, keep everybody happy parliament]

"STV ensures proportionality through achieving better representation of the public through a fairer voting system that accurately reflects the most popular overall choices of the public."

Fairer than what? In STV proportionality varies by magnitude so the most proportional STV scenario is to make BC into one big super riding. What about balancing local representation with requirements for proportionality? Sorry, MMP does this better.

"To use a diet analogy, the status quo is someone eating too much and getting fat. MMP is that person recognizing they are fat and going for stomach stapling operation in the hopes that this artificial quick fix will solve the problem. STV is someone that chooses to eat right and exercise, the best choice."

You've failed to explain why MMP is an 'artificial'
quick fix unless you think abolishing the party sytem entirely is your ultimate goal. If so, make your
intentions clear. STV does not guarantee participation of third or minority parties. MMP with a well designed threshold, does. That to me is eminently more democratic and proportional.
I think your diet analogy needs a bit more time on the fat farm...

"But, as I said, MMP is not on the ballot, only STV and FPTP are on the ballot. By every measure STV is better than the status quo and there are no ethical reasons to vote no on May 17th"

To what "ethical" standard of conduct do you specifically appeal? If my choice is simply between a lesser of two evils, and one of the decent choices is not even on the ballot, I would exercise my right to vote against STV in protest to the convoluted method in which STV was artificially presented as the only alternative.

I for one do not favour change at any cost for so
little STV return. I suspect the majority of BCers may also feel the same way and support FPTP in May in the absence of any comprehensible alternative.

Declan said...

daniel: Given your position, wouldn't it make more sense to spoil your ballot or abstain. I'm thinking that people might interpret your vote in favour of FPTP to mean that you support FPTP (people can be funny that way).

STV and MMP both have their own benefits and drawbacks. Personally, I see them as being about equal. The biggest drawbacks of MMP are that it creates two different classes of MP's, that it formalizes the role of parties in the electoral process and that it doesn't provide voters with the same level of choice (most notably the ability to choose between different members of the same party or the ability to vote for an independent and still have your vote not get wasted) that STV does.

The asssembly studied this for a year and concluded that STV was better for B.C. I too would prefer that we could get a two part question like you suggest but we can't - so we have to live with what we have.

I guess if you truly believe that only MMP is a good system and that the best way to achieve MMP is to vote down STV and keep advocating for a new process to be undertaken then your position makes sense, but from where I sit, it looks more like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Voter said...

I like the proportional representation part, but not the larger constituencies. We should have been given several options. The present system sucks, but I'll be voting No because I don't think STV is the answer either and I'm not convinced we'll be any better off.

phil said...

Of coarse the STV system is critized by the people who will turn their cynical analasis on anything.Evolution is like that.A progressive meathod is basically more of us involved in the mix.Or specifically more of our same problems in goverance,and equally the meathods of solution of those problems through representation.The oversimplified explanation is that is what we get,for now,a piece of what we are seaching for in a better system.We must let go of the winner takes all concept.
It is clearly unfair,and clearly there are other options to update our meathod that currently brings in majority governments with a minority of votes.
I'm looking forward to it.
Best of for STV!
Phil