We still want BC-STV -- Reclaiming democracy

By Myke Logan
Published September 2nd 2005 in Common Ground Canada
What happened to democracy in BC? Proportional representation – electing representatives in accordance with voter preference – is a central principle in 90 percent of the world’s major democracies. In those countries, citizens believe that if 10 percent of the people vote for a particular party, it only makes sense that 10 percent of the seats in parliament go to that party. Under our current system, First-Past-the-Post (FPTP), that will never happen. But, we the people still hold the keys to the political kingdom.
Political change doesn’t come easy. When the opportunity arrives, citizenry has the responsibility to, as Gandhi put it, “Be the change [they] wish to see in the world.” The issue of proportional representation is still alive. Premier Campbell, opposition leader Carole James, and the Green Party’s Adriane Carr have all assured the public that electoral reform is still being pursued. The Electoral Reform Amendment to the Referendum Act shows the BC legislature still has the power to adopt BC-STV. A clear majority of citizens – 57.69 percent – want BC-STV.
Some say implementing BC-STV now, after the referendum has “failed,” would contradict democracy. Consider that for a moment. Forty-two percent of the people decide what’s best for the majority; is this not a distortion of democracy? What if the threshold had been set at 65 percent or 70 percent? Democracy is rule by the people, not people following arbitrary rules.
While we’re at it, let’s debunk some other BC-STV myths.
MYTH: It’s not the right system for BC
FACT: It offers proportional representation, local representation (as opposed to toeing the party line), and greater voter choice. MLAs are accountable, there are no safe seats. The Citizen’s Assembly specifically tailored this system for the province.
MYTH: The counting system is too difficult to understand.
FACT: I don’t understand the algorithm of my email program, the mechanics of my car engine, or the formula behind gravity, but I trust that I can still receive spam in my inbox, drive my car, and fall down the stairs. If you can list five things in order of preference, you can understand your role in STV.
MYTH: BC-STV means more computerized vote-counting.
FACT: In Vancouver, votes have been scanned and tallied by computer since 1988. The paper ballots would remain as a verifiable record.
MYTH: There will be too many candidates on the ballots.
FACT: Where STV is used, there were an average of seven choices where three officials are being elected, and 15 choices where six officials are being elected.
Though not an electoral conspiracy (because the Assembly wouldn’t have happened in the first place, if it was), the double super-majority referendum continues to beg the question of why the difference in standards. Simple majorities of 50 percent plus one vote are the standing rule, and such a capricious replacement of democratic principles is an abuse of the people’s trust. What is more frightening, however, is that the people have yet to respond to that abuse.
As pointed out by J. Patrick Boyer in the July issue of Common Ground (www.commonground.ca), British Columbians have always passed referenda with simple majorities. Only political protectionism would explain opposing the will of the people. While BC majority governments are elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, electoral reform stagnates with 58 percent of the vote. In Ireland, which has a successful STV system in place, politicians twice tried to pass referenda repealing STV, requiring only 50 percent plus one vote to do so.
The Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform was one of the grandest experiments in modern deliberative democracy. At no other time have citizens been given the opportunity to address and correct electoral politics on behalf of a populace (without resorting to violence). The Assembly – one man and one woman from every riding, plus two aboriginals – were given a year to determine and recommend a voting system, which represented all sections of the population. An overwhelming majority (93 percent) voted to recommend BC-STV to British Columbians.
Nonetheless, BC-STV is not the only option. Far more democratic countries in the world use the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system. Katherine Gordon, responsible for presenting the merits and shortfalls of MMP to the Assembly, says that although she favours MMP, her “fundamental vote is for electoral reform.” Gordon voted under the MMP system in New Zealand, and like most of the province, knows FPTP “simply doesn’t work.”
It’s up to the voters to make the difference now, and to hold the politicians, who promised electoral reform, accountable. Solutions exist: reintroducing the Assembly, gathering public support by petition, or even recalling the entire matter before the BC public (and this time, levelling the playing field). British Columbia is so close to a revolutionary form of representative government, as long as the people are not thwarted again by apathy, disinformation, or antidemocratic restrictions.
www.bc-stv.ca - citizen alumni
www.fairvote.ca - petition for federal electoral reform
www.fairvote.org/pr/nations.htm - voting systems for democratic nations