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
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, or call 1-800-668-2800.