Assembly on Electoral Reform
October 26, 2004
Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended Sunday that
British Columbians adopt a new voting system ’Äì the Single
Transferable Vote system that’Äôs often called ’Äúas easy as
1, 2, 3.’Äù
Now the decision is up to the voters of BC, who
will cast ballots on STV in a referendum in the next provincial
election, on May 17, 2005.
After almost 10 months of study, research and
debate, plus 50 public hearings and 1,603 written submissions from
the public, Assembly Members on Sunday overwhelmingly chose a
made-in-BC proportional STV system as their recommendation to the
First, the Assembly voted on whether they thought the current
electoral system, often known as First Past the Post, should be
retained. The vote was: 142 No, 11 Yes.
Then they voted on whether the STV model they
designed should be proposed to the people. The vote: 146 Yes, 7 No.
The provincial government says that if voters
approve the STV model in May, it will introduce legislation so the
new system can go into effect for the 2009 election.
The STV model was custom-built by members to
meet the needs of BC and to address three over-riding values: local
representation, voter choice, and increased ’Äúproportionality’Äù
’Äì the concept that each party’Äôs share of seats in the house
should reflect its share of the popular vote.
’ÄúWe have heard from the public,’Äù said one
member on Sunday. ’ÄúIt’Äôs time to give the public what they want
’Ä¶ a system by the people, for the people ’Äì designed by the
people, for the values of the people. That system is STV.’Äù
One Assembly member called STV "the voter
choice system". Another called it ’Äúthe people’Äôs voice
system’Äù, and added: ’ÄúIt can produce majority governments, or
minorities and coalitions. Whatever it produces, it expresses the
wishes of the voters all across BC.’Äù
The current First Past the Post system
(technically called the Single Member Plurality system, or SMP) was
described by members as a familiar and understandable model that has
served BC well, produced stable majority governments, and elected
local MLAs who could represent local issues and concerns.
Said one member: ’ÄúUnder First Past the Post,
we elect the government. We elect a majority, and it gives the
government the strength to form policy and carry it out.
Another member replied: ’ÄúThe people of BC are
more sophisticated than they were 100 years ago’Ä¶ STV as an
electoral system, for me, is part of a natural evolution. ’Ä¶
Accountability has been a huge issue brought to the Assembly (by the
public). Throwing out governments on a regular basis (under FPTP),
with the massive costs due to their policy changes, is a poor form
Added another, ’ÄúI want to give to the voters
of BC the same privilege that we have been given as members of the
Assembly, and that is to decide their electoral system for
On Saturday, members turned down as an
alternative to STV a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) model that they
had designed. The vote was 123 to 31 in favour of STV as the best
alternative to First Past the Post.
Debate in the Assembly on Saturday centred on
the members' stated priorities of local representation, proportional
representation and voter choice.
Members’Äô comments included:
"It comes down to democracy to me. . . . Elections to me
are about somebody who is representing me and my interests. I
haven't yet found a party that really represents me and what I
believe in. I see STV as allowing me to vote for a candidate who
most closely represents what I like and what issues I would like
Added another member: "And the person is
accountable to us and not to the party."
Several members stressed before the vote that
they would support whatever system the Assembly finally recommends.
As member Sam Todd of Burnaby put it: "It's chocolate cake and
strawberry shortcake, so whichever way we go we win. It's
STV: As easy as 1, 2, 3
The voter using STV would see two key changes from the current
First, instead of writing on the ballot a
single ’ÄúX’Äù for a single candidate, the voter would be able to
rank candidates (1, 2, 3, and so on) according to the voter’Äôs
The voter would be able to mark preferences for
as many or as few candidates on the ballot as the voter wishes. The
voter thus can cast preferential votes for candidates of more than
one party, for independents and minorities, or all for the same
party. After the polls close, the counting system gives the proper
weighting to the ’Äú1, 2, 3, etc.’Äù preferences expressed by the
voters, ensuring that the candidates with the highest preferences
Second, BC’Äôs constituencies would no longer
be single-MLA electoral districts as now. There would be
geographically larger ridings, each with more than one MLA. The
legislature would remain at 79 seats, though, so the ratio of MLAs
to population would be unchanged.
The Assembly’Äôs model would allow the size of
electoral districts and the number of MLAs elected per district to
vary across the province to reflect local and regional conditions.
In sparsely populated areas, districts could comprise 2-3 MLAs and,
in denser urban districts as many as five, six or even seven MLAs.
(BC in the past, under the current system, has had some electoral
districts with more than one MLA.)
Districts with two MLAs, such as those
anticipated in northern BC under STV, would still be smaller than
federal electoral districts. STV would not result in any reduction
in the number of MLAs representing rural areas.
STV in various formats is used in Ireland,
Malta, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and a number of
municipalities. Ireland has had STV for almost a century. Despite
attempts by government to kill STV, the Irish have repeatedly voted
to keep it.
The Assembly members next meet November 13 - 14 to begin work on
their report to the public, to draft a referendum question, and, if
necessary, to fine-tune their STV model before they pass it on to
Their final meeting will be November 27-28.
Their Final Report is due December 15 and the Assembly and its staff
disband December 31.
Assembly meetings are held at the Wosk Centre
for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St., Vancouver. All plenary
sessions are open to the public.
Saturday meetings usually run from 8:30am to 5pm with breaks.
Sunday sessions are usually held from 8:30am to 12:30pm.
Where to get more information
More information on the Assembly and STV can be found on the
Assembly’Äôs website www.citizensassembly.bc.ca. Additional
resources are being developed and will be available shortly.
On the website, you can find:
’Ä¢ A link on our home page to a list of STV resources
’Ä¢ Video and audio recordings of all Assembly plenary sessions
’Ä¢ Documents provided to Assembly members
’Ä¢ Information on a variety of electoral systems, with links
and recommended reading
’Ä¢ Over 1600 submissions to the Assembly
’Ä¢ Summary records from 50 public hearings.
In addition, you can obtain information ’Äì
such as fact sheets ’Äì from the Assembly’Äôs office. Just
call us at 1-866-667-1232.
TV is broadcasting Assembly plenary sessions. These broadcasts
will take place on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at 9am. This is
On Saturday October 30 and Sunday October 31,
the Assembly’Äôs October 23-24 sessions will be broadcast.
On Saturday November 20 and Sunday November 21,
our November 13-14 sessions will be broadcast.
On Saturday December 4 and Sunday December 5,
the Assembly’Äôs November 27-28 sessions will be aired.
Future broadcast dates are also being
The Assembly just announced its first resignation: Paola Barakat of
Richmond. She resigned her membership for personal reasons, leaves
the Assembly's membership at 159, plus chair Jack Blaney, for a
total of 160.