BC-STV, what's next for electoral reform?

By Andru McCracken
Published May 24th 2005 in Robson Valley Times
In the wake of the province’s referendum on electoral reform, groups that favour BC-STV are suggesting that there is enough popular support to proceed implementing the new way of voting for the next election. However, some members of both yes and no camps agree that another referendum is required to sort things out, this time with a well funded education campaign.

In the Canoe and Robson Valleys (polling stations between Valemount and Dome Creek) 59.4% voted in favour of bringing in BC-STV. In Prince George-Mount Robson riding, 57.4% cast their votes in favour of the system. Remarkably, the results across the riding reflect the average across the province where 57.4% cast their ballots for BC-STV.

Shoni Field of Vancouver-Hastings, an alumni of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, suggests that government is in a catch 22.

“We clearly have a problem if we do not move forward. That would mean we would be electing a government in 2009 with a system that is not endorsed by a majority of the population,” said Field.

She said that just 43% of the population voted to keep the status quo while a healthy majority voted for change.

“It would be very hard for the [next] government to have legitimacy under those grounds,” she said.

Rick Dignard of Know STV (the no side), said that the 60% cut off was put in place for a reason. While he was also part of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, he said that there is far more appetite for other types of electoral systems, like Mixed Member Proportional.

Rick Dignard said that 90% of the information that went out to British Columbians was from the Yes side. “This is not a right way to make a democratic decision,” he said.

“The Citizen’s Assembly took submissions from the public, 80% of those submissions asked for another system (Mixed Member Proportional). Only 3% of those submissions asked for STV. That’s not even a debate as far as what people wanted,” he said.

“It was an honor to be a part of the assembly, but I’m no more important than some of those people that stated their preferences.”

Dignard said that people didn’t know what they were voting for. “That’s not democracy, that’s not a good way to do this,” he said. “I am very in favour of electoral reform. I just don’t think STV is the way to go.”

Field is concerned that as the government decides what to do next, their actions will be confounded by partisan politics.

“It’s hard to remove the decision from what would be good for your party,” she said. “The Citizens’ Assembly was a group of non partisan people who weren’t thinking about how they could best get themselves elected next time. We were simply thinking about what was good for BC and rural ridings had a very strong voice.”

Field said that if the results showed that only urban voters in the lower mainland were interested in the system and northern voters weren’t, she would gladly go back to the drawing board. However, the referendum received over 50% of the popular vote in 77 of 79 ridings. (The remaining two ridings were 49% in favour.)

“We spent a huge amount of time coming up with something that served both BCs: the Urban and the Rural,” she said. “I’m proud of the results because they say that we got it right.”

In spite of their differences both Field and Dignard believe what was missing was a strong public education campaign.

“People need an education for and against. We don’t need to have newspapers giving their endorsement. People need the straight goods yes and no,” said Dignard.

Field believes that an education campaign would have netted the yes side more than 60% of the vote.

Nick Loenen of Fair Voting BC said that the Referendum Act doesn’t preclude the premier from moving to implement the system. If that doesn’t happen, Loenen said another option is a second referendum where citizens are given the options of what type of voting system they would prefer, the current system, mixed member proportional, alternative vote or BC-STV.

“I’m confident that if we gave voters a menu of options with the different systems, BC-STV will come out on top,” he said.

Dignard of the no side suggested the same referendum.

“If STV is that good, put it up in a fair fight against a system that makes sense,” he said.