October 26, 2004
reform proposes sweeping changes
When British Columbians head to the polls in May
it could be a historic provincial election.
Not only will voters choose a provincial
government but the question of changing the way MLAs are sent to
Victoria will be on a referendum question during the provincial
election on May 17, 2005 asking whether to stay with the current
’Äúfirst past the post’Äù electoral system or change to a single
transferable vote, which would have implications for northern
ridings like Peace River North.
The Citizens’Äô Assembly on Electoral Reform
recommended Sunday that the single transferable vote be adopted as
B.C.’Äôs new voting system. Under the single transferable vote
model, B.C. constituencies would no longer be single MLA electoral
districts. There would be geographically larger ridings, each with
more than one MLA but the legislature would remain at 79 seats. In
sparsely populated areas districts could have two or three MLAs and
in denser urban districts as many as seven.
Wilf Chelle, who represents Peace River North on
the Citizens’Äô Assembly doesn’Äôt think that larger ridings would
short change northern ridings in terms of representation.
’ÄúIn our case, no,’Äù said Chelle, who is in
favour of the single transferable vote system. ’ÄúI think some
people will think so because the riding is bigger even though we
have two MLAs, but I don’Äôt think so.’Äù
Chelle raised an example where the MLA
representing Peace River North, Richard Neufeld, who is also a
cabinet minister, ’Äúand has a lot on his plate besides just serving
’ÄúI’Äôm not complaining about how he does that, I
think he does very well,’Äù he said, ’Äúbut the other person could
take up the slack.’Äù
Dr. Norman Ruff, who teaches courses on B.C.
politics and electoral systems at the University of Victoria, also
doesn’Äôt see such a system hurting northern ridings.
’ÄúPeace River North and Peace River South,
let’Äôs say that becomes one riding. It’Äôs a big area, but you’Äôve
still got the two members so there’Äôs no loss in direct
representation,’Äù he explained.
Another shift from the current system is that
instead of marking a single ’ÄúX’Äù on the ballot for a single
candidate the voter would be able to rank candidates (one, two
three, etc.) according to the voter’Äôs personal preferences. Voters
would be able to mark preferences for as many or as few candidates
on the ballot as they wish.
’ÄúIt means that you can cross party lines,’Äù
Ruff said. ’ÄúYou’Äôre not stuck with just voting for the candidate
put up by one party. You can choose, and if you happen to like a
candidate of another party other than your first preference, you can
put a second preference in and they might be elected.’Äù
’ÄúVery basically what it does is that when you
vote, depending on the number of candidates, you can put as many
choices as you wish,’Äù Chelle added. ’ÄúThere’Äôs a formula for how
many votes you have to have to win.’Äù
While referred to ’Äúas easy as one, two, three’Äù
there’Äôs already been talk about how complicated the single
transferable vote system appears on the surface but Ruff said all
people need to know are the basics about voting.
’ÄúFor that matter, how many people really know
what goes on (with) first past the post?’Äù
Meanwhile, Chelle acknowledged it’Äôll be crucial
to carefully explain the new system to voters.
’ÄúI think it’Äôll be important,’Äù he said.
’ÄúThis is the system, as far as I’Äôm concerned, that has the best
choice (for voters.)’Äù
According to the Assembly, the single transferable
vote system is used in various formats in Ireland, Malta, Tasmania
and the Australian Capital Territory.
The Citizens Assembly meets again Nov. 13-14 in
Vancouver to begin work on a public report that must be produced by
Dec. 15, detailing and explaining the reasons for and implications
of the recommendations.