Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Electoral boundaries show STV can work for B.C.

I’m sticking with my slogan for the campaign to shift B.C. to a new way of electing MLAs: “STV – it couldn’t be any worse than what we’ve got now.”
The Electoral Boundaries Commission didn’t just recommend new riding boundaries when it reported last week. It also set out proposed ridings that would be used under the single-transferable vote proportional representation system.
Wait. Don’t quit reading. This is important, and pretty interesting.
You remember STV. The Citizens’ Commission on Electoral Reform — Premier Gordon Campbell’s very fine creation — recommended a shift to that system. It went to referendum in 2005 and 58 per cent of voters supported the change — just shy of the 60 per cent needed.
So Campbell said there would be a repeat referendum along with the provincial election in 2009. This time, proposed ridings would be set out so people could make a more informed decision.
That’s what the commission provided. And all in all, despite some problems, the proposed ridings confirm that the STV system would be an improvement.
Under the system there would be fewer, larger ridings, with two to six MLAs, depending on the population.
On election day, you wouldn’t just mark an ‘X’ beside your choice. You would rank as many candidates as you liked, in order of preference. The results reflect voters’ rankings. (The tallying method is explained well at www.gov.bc.ca/referendum_info.)
The system’s benefits include a legislature that better reflects the wishes of voters. It’s likely, for example, that the 162,000 British Columbians who voted Green – 9.2 per cent of the total – would have ended up with members of the party representing them under the STV system.
The ranking system means voters can mix their choices – ranking Liberals first and second, and a Green candidate they admire third, for example.
And it means members of the same party have to compete with each other for support.
That’s important. The important contest in many ridings now is the battle for the nomination, not the election itself. And MLAs – especially in government – tend to worry as much about staying on the good side of the party as they do advocating for their ridings. That would change under STV.
But there’s a snag. The greatest benefits from the system come when there are four or five MLAs in a riding.
But that is impractical in some areas of B.C. To have the population needed to justify even three MLAs, the ridings would have to be enormous.
So there are two ridings proposed in the north – Northeast and Northwest – that would have only two MLAs each. There are several ridings with three MLAs — the Kootenays become one large riding with three representatives.
The benefits of the system are reduced with two-person ridings, and there are some risks. In a riding with four or five seats, it’s likely candidates will emerge who target individual communities within the riding to win support.
But in a two-candidate riding, there’s a risk some areas might be ignored. It’s a long way from Tumbler Ridge to Fort Nelson.
Still, tally the pros and cons and the system looks like a major step forward. And the Electoral Boundaries Commission established that across most of the province, its possible to set out ridings that make sense and allow three or more MLAs to be elected from a riding.
Here in the Capital Region, for example, the commission proposes a six-member riding that pretty much conforms to the regional district boundaries. It should offer a great opportunity for voters’ diverse interests and priorities to be reflected in the legislature. They will be able to support the four best Liberals, if they want to see the government stay in power, but perhaps also a New Democrat who understands their local issues and a Green candidate to advance environmental issues.
The STV system isn’t perfect. But it’s better than what we have now, and it’s the only chance for change.
Footnote: The referendum will be held in May 2009. If the change is approved, it would take effect for the 2013 election. Expect passionate campaigns for and against as the date of the vote comes closer.


Anonymous said...

I sincerely doubt that STV would translate to a government that better reflects the will of the voters. Think of the dozens of issues in each party platform - do voters necessarily agree with each and every element when they cast a vote for a party? I would argue that at best they vote for one or two high profile positions, and may often disagree with many of the other issues. Think of the uneasy coexistence of fiscally conservative libertarians and social conservatives in right-wing parties, or the same fiscal conservatives in left-wing parties.

STV merely diffuses the linkage between voters and their representatives so that it become more difficult to send a clear message on any of these other positions. STV is also going to produce more minority governments, which is only good for the people who can't get a significant proportion of the population to agree with them any other way (hey, it only takes 34% of the vote in a 3-party system...)

Anonymous said...

So who do you trust ? Someone like David Schreck, who has been an MLA and actually served in government as an elected representative; in addition to being a special advisor to a BC premier who tells us categorically that STV will be a disaster.

Or, do we trust Mr.Willcocks; someone who clearly has given little consideration on how government actually functions and seems to be increasingly less capable of covering BC politics in a truly objective manner.

I find myself once again disappointed in the latter.

Anonymous said...

This first past the post has a lot of problems. I believe we should read as much as possible on the opnions of others. The Citizens Forum folks worked hard to come up with a choice but, hey folks its' up tp all of us to understand the pros and cons. The last vote for the transferable ballot came very close to meeting the percentages that had been unilaterally set by the premier. This time around lts' get informed and let's convince the political parties to help educate on the assorted systems. I think its rather unfair to say a cclumnist such as Wilcox is not capable of covering BC Politics in a truly objective manner. The writer above me doesn't like STV so is dumping on the messenger. I happen to like both David and Pauls articles so will have to eventually decide which way i will vote. It's called democratic process. DL

Anonymous said...

I don’t mind, in fact I appreciate it when a columnist looks to point out the pros and cons of any new voting system, what I don’t like is when the columnist, who has never actually been involved in the internal side of government, makes some grandiose unqualified statement like STV is “better than what we have now”

How can he possibly know this ? How does he know that vote rich larger cities would not completely decimate the rural areas that don’t have enough votes ? How does he know that an STV region will have a voice when maybe the MLA’s in that region spend all their time bickering amongst themselves like on Vancouver City Council. How does he know that under STV MLA’s would not simply do nothing and point the finger at the other MLA’S ? He has no clue. So to suggest something is “better” when there is absolutely no means to validate that statement simply suggests low level journalism to me

In my opinion let’s have columnists stick to the facts and let’s those with actual political experience such as Mr. Schreck provide a more informed opinion if it will work or not.

Paul Willcocks should know better.

Anonymous said...

"Think of the dozens of issues in each party platform - do voters necessarily agree with each and every element when they cast a vote for a party?"

What's your point? Under STV, you get a broader range of viewpoints, both in the Assembly and in government. With FPTP, one party gets all the power, even though most people voted against them. Why is that better?

"So who do you trust?"

Politicians have a vested interest in the current system. What they have to say should be ignored.

Wayne Smith

Anonymous said...

So if only those with inside knowledge of how something is run are allowed to comment, why are they trusting something as important as an election to us know nothing plebes anyways? Shouldn't we just accept what the government tells us with an eager nod of the head and a smile on our faces?

The whole point of a media, if I am not mistaken, is to try and penetrate that insider mythos and give us information and viewpoints that differ, thus allowing us, the non-insider, to debate and make our decision.

Anonymous said...

Under the proposed boundaries Vancouver Island still does not end up with enough seats for its population . The idea anything is better is not right as long as we have such a disparity in population. However I see good and bad for STV and I don't mind minority governments that might actually represent the peoples mindset not this polarization of business and labour.

Anonymous said...

STV sounds useful, but takes an enormous effort to understand how filling out my ballot is going to contribute the outcome I desire. Too many combinations.

I notice the two-person riding comment. There's a different hybrid voting system that tries to balance representation with another desired voting activity: turnout.

In this system, the candidate with the most votes in a riding gets a seat. Then, the second-place candidates in the top 50% of ridings with highest voter turnout also get seats. The percentage can be adjusted.

But no party can sweep the legislature, and significant representation can come from second-place candidates who get the vote out.

Budd Campbell said...

I attended one of the EBC's many public meetings. In attendance was an ex-Citizen's Assembly type, a zealous STV supporter.

When I suggested that the redistricting process should take into account large Aboriginal or immigrant populations, the Commmissioner in attendance was interested. He informed us all that such a criteria is actually in the Alberta redistricting statute, though it's not a recognized statutory requirement in B.C.

The STV man didn't like this kind of talk one bit. It was apparent to me that he was not only a one time Citizen Assemblyman, but also a one-time Manning Man, anxious about Quebec, about immigration and about Indians and land claims. The nasty truth is that B.C. populism has always had more than a touch of xenophobia to it.

Dan Grice said...

Good Article Paul. I love how you have all of these anonymous posters telling us that we should think you are unqualified and we should take David Shreck's work as the holy grail of political discourse because he was elected once as a NDP when the Social Credit collapsed. (As opposed to Rafe Mair..)

The question is what do the voter's deserve. They deserve the right to filter their vote. If you support the BC Liberals and they run a right wing looney, you should have another option to support. If you live in Abbotsford, you deserve to have local NDP or Green to turn to when your Liberals fails to stand up for the issues.

I love STV, or there is also open list systems such as scandinavia, and all of them seem to work strongly there. Ireland has had the hottest economy in Europe for much of the 90s. Sweden uses a regional voting system and had the best social services.

We have serious problems in BC, we have a Liberal Party that is under a gag order, and we have an utterly incompetent NDP. We have these silly things called closed caucus solidarity and we have MLAs more scared of their party leader than anything else. They give themselves pay raises, work for half a year, and don't go out into their community once.

We need third parties elected in BC both on the left and on the right. We need to make MLAs fear that they won't get re-elected. We need proportional representation, with locally elected MLAs. An MMP system would mean Greens and BC Conservatives/Unity would be sitting in the legislature, but it would also mean that people in BC would still not have any other options elected locally.

Lets either get STV now, otherwise, get used to another 40 years of useless MLAs and a Liberal majority.

Dan Grice

Anonymous said...

The political system of the Northwest Territories has no political parties. The territory operates on the basis of consensus government. The premier of the Northwest Territories is chosen by and from the members elected.

Simple, straightforward and worth promoting. No political parties? Imagine!