STV close, but...

By Matthew Hoekstra
Published May 19th 2005 in Richmond Review
B.C. came "within spitting distance" of adopting a new voting system in Tuesday's referendum, and supporters vow the fight for electoral reform isn't over.

"There is an appetite for democracy and a greater accountability in government," said Nick Loenen. "I think it's coming."

Loenen, a Richmond resident and director of Fair Voting B.C., said the approximately 57 per cent support for the single-transferable voting system is wonderful, despite needing 60 per cent to pass. The referendum achieved the required simple majority in 48 of B.C.'s 79 ridings.

"We're very pleased with the results," Loenen said. "Even three weeks ago, who could have thought that we could have attained over 50 per cent? We went well over 50 per cent."

In Richmond Centre, 52 per cent of voters approved of STV. In Richmond-Steveston, STV garnered 54.5 per cent support. In Richmond East, support was 53.1 per cent.

Under an STV system, which was recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, voters rank candidates in order of preference. A single vote can be transferred from one candidate to another according to voters' rankings, depending on the cumulative result of other ballots.

Loenen said the result could have been higher had the Yes side had money and time to promote it. The provincial government spent $5.5 million on the Citizens' Assembly, but didn't provide a budget for a significant public awareness campaign.

"The public education part was missing and the little of it that happened was done by the Citizens' Assembly members, it was done by amateurs; it was done on a shoestring," Loenen said. "This is grassroots democracy and I salute all of them, but it wasn't a slick multi-media, multi-million dollar advertising campaign."

Loenen said he was encouraged by a comment from Premier Gordon Campbell following the vote that he would consider a review of the close result. Loenen noted the 60-per-cent threshold is higher than the simple majority required in the Quebec and Charlottetown Accord referendums.

"I think there's very good grounds for at least reviewing this very unusually high 60 per cent hurdle," he said. "This issue is not going to go away."

Richmond-Steveston's former Citizens' Assembly member Brooke Bannister said he was disappointed at the result and echoed Loenen's comments.

"I guess the 60 per cent threshold and the fact that we had no money for education and no major party support were just too much to overcome."

Bannister urged the premier to consider implementing STV anyway, noting the obstacles the referendum had-no money for education nor major party support.

"I would also urge him to recommend citizens' assemblies in other areas. Although the vote says we failed, we certainly didn't fail in our original task and that was to find a better way to affect public policy."

Craig Peterson, another former Richmond assembly member, said he doesn't want electoral reform to die.
"The leading political parties have to get interested in responding to what people are saying. If almost 60 per cent are saying they'd like to see some changes-that is a majority-it would be nice to have a discussion about it," he said. "Most people don't have the time to study something and to learn about it. So what ends up happening is they are very much influenced in media reports and what people tell them in general."
Wolf Strecko, an STV for B.C. volunteer from East Richmond, said the final result sends a message to government that the majority of British Columbians favour reform.

"(Tuesday's) election results are more representative than some in the past and a clear expression of voters' desire to have more than one point of view represented in government. However, we still have a majority government with less than 50 per cent of the vote, and 13 per cent of voters-who did not vote for the Liberals or NDP parties-(are) without any direct representation."

"No" campaign spokesperson Bev Scorey said opponents to STV don't oppose electoral reform, but believe other voting systems, such as a mixed member proportional system, are better.

"We are pleased that clearly the notion of reform is something that is very important to British Columbia, and we have always supported electoral reform and look forward to exploring other options that make more sense for a jurisdiction of our nature," Scorey said.