By Julian West/Bruce Hallsor
Published April 13th 2005 in Saanich News
On May 17, voters in British Columbia face one of the most important decisions in the history of our democracy. Are we ready to move to a new voting system?
The new system, called BC-STV (single transferable vote), is the result of 11 months debate by the randomly chosen Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, a diverse group of 160 ordinary British Columbians.
They considered the values important to B.C. voters, and decided that voter choice, local representation, and proportionality topped the list. They felt the Single Transferable Vote system - called "choice voting" by some, and simply "proportional representation" in countries like Ireland and Australia where it is used - best met those values. Equally important, they decided our present 'Single Member Plurality' system - also called 'first-past-the-post' - does not.
The assembly decided our current voting system is dysfunctional, produces results that have little relation to actual votes, and creates legislatures which do not represent the wishes of British Columbians. The Citizens' Assembly was formed after two particularly outrageous election results. In 1996, the party with the second-largest number of votes won election and formed government. Bizarre? Yes. Uncommon? No. The same thing happened later in Quebec, and then in Saskatchewan.
In 2001, 42 per cent of the B.C. electorate did not vote Liberal, but the first-past-the-post system translated this into only three per cent of the seats. Consequence: the legislature has functioned without an official Opposition for the last four years. This undercuts how our entire system is supposed to work. Similar results have happened recently in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
BC-STV will ensure party seats are fairly assigned in proportion to party support. There are other failures of the first-past-the-post system.
Why does it always seem there are only two choices in a B.C. election? Why are politics so polarized? In countries using more proportional systems, voters have far more options, and parties must tone down the rhetoric and compromise to get things done. In a competitive electoral system, voters have real choices, and can't be taken for granted by big parties. BC-STV allows voters to vote for their real first preference, and then have their vote transferred to another party if their first preference vote is not required. In other words, your vote will count, rather than often being wasted in the current system. BC-STV also allows voters to choose between candidates from the same party, or split their vote among parties - or Independents. This gives voters more power to direct their ballot, and makes political parties work harder to be responsive to voters and ridings on an individual basis. In the last NDP government, there was not a single cabinet minister from the Okanagan, Richmond, Delta or the North Shore. Why not? Because they had no seats there. Under BC-STV, both large parties will elect members in all regions - making both government and opposition caucuses truly representative of the whole province.
BC-STV was designed by ordinary citizens to create a fairer, more competitive democracy in our province. You can endorse their choice by voting Yes come May 17.
Julian West is an NDP activist who is a mathematics professor at Malaspina College. Bruce Hallsor is a B.C. Liberal activist and president of the Victoria Bar Association.