Home > BC New Democrats, British Columbia Politics, Northern BC > Why I Might Have To Grudgingly Support BC-STV

Why I Might Have To Grudgingly Support BC-STV

February 16, 2009

One of the decisions British Columbians have to make on May 12th is whether or not to adopt BC-STV as BC’s Electoral System.

Now, let me be straight: I’m not a fan of BC-STV, and voted against it last election. The main reason: its a system that works in small, urban countries, which BC is not. BC-STV will give Northerners less proportionality than Southerners.

However, my mind does change when the facts do as well.

Fact #1: Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) is the electoral system that I would like to see British Columbia adopt. However, it hasn’t been very successful as a option in other electoral reform referenda in Canada; both Ontario and Prince Edward Island had a referendum to convert to this system. Both failed miserably. BC-STV, however, has been able to get higher than 50% support in a referedum.

Fact #2: The BC NDP equity mandate, designed to help increase the amount of women and other minority candidates has been passed, and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. While I generally support it, the current electoral system makes the implementation of the equity mandate very awkward – 50% of the population is barred from even thinking of running for BC NDP nomination in 33% of BC’s constituencies. This kinda gives me some reservations. With BC-STV, there would be many MLA’s in a constituency; therefore anybody would be allowed to run at a nomination convention, but the rule in place would be that at least 33% (or whatever) of the candidates running in that constituency for the BC NDP must be women.

So, I’m not sure how I will vote in the referendum. Do I stay with a bad electoral system, or switch to a bad electoral system?

  1. February 16, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    If you favour a proportional system (MMP) over the non-proportional, majoritarian, winner-take-all system (FPTP) then you should favour BC-STV over FPTP. To vote NO in the referendum – thus YES for FPTP – fundamentally goes against your own principles.

  2. February 16, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I think it is great that you might be thinking about supporting BC-STV. I’m guessing that you are expressing reservations about STV because both Ireland and Malta which use STV have low women’s representation in their parliaments. Sometimes, the cultures in different places affect the percentage of women in the parliaments. In Australia, women have better representation in the Senate which uses STV. Australia’s Senate is at least 1/3 women. I think if women have the desire to participate in BC politics, women’s representation will go up to 1/3 in the assembly in the first few elections. Hopefully, women will gain representation after that.

    I can understand your desire to have MMP for BC. In Ontario, it was the other way around for me. I originally supported STV during the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly deliberations. When the OCA decided to support MMP, I decided to support the OCA’s decision because MMP was and still is way better than the antiquated First-Past-the-Post voting system.

    I think both STV and MMP are way better than FPTP. I do hope that you will support BC-STV in the referendum. Your fellow British Columbians will thank you for your support.

  3. Ian
    February 16, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I second Chrystal and SD. STV is better than the status quo.

    Also, if you can pass it in BC, we can start the dominoes for the rest of the country to follow in some form of reform.

    Finally, if STV really doesn’t work, at least this change will open the door to future changes, so you can fight for MMP next time.

  4. February 16, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    It’s good to see you come around to BC-STV. There are two points I want to reply to:

    1. You are certainly correct that district size in STV is realted to proportionality. The more members elected in a district; the more proportional the results. As you note, this means that the results will be less proportional is rural/Northern BC. However, the only way this could be affected (without going to a list PR or MMP system) is by making the STV district populations uniform, which would make the rural districts geographically enormous.

    2. If you really want to see MMP adopted (in BC or anywhere else in Canada for that matter), I think that, upon reflection, it should be clear that an STV-elected legislature would be much more likely to consider further electoral reform.

    My impression, from years of electoral reform activism in multiple provinces, is that most of the opposition to electoral reform (whether STV or MMP) is opposed to the VERY IDEA of fair and proportional electoral results. Those working hard to maintain the electoral status quo do think that most voters should have a vote that elects someone, they think it’s perfectly fine that “majority” governments can get elected with less than 40% of the vote and they certainly don’t want to see power shift from unelected party insiders to duly-elected legislators. I don’t think that, should these people manage to defeat BC-STV, you can trust those elements of the body politic to do a damned thing to bring in MMP.

    Finally, a victory for BC-STV is important for electoral reformers, including MMP lovers, because it shows that we CAN change our political structures. It will show Canadians that alternative electoral systems can function well and indeed improve the quality of democracy.

  5. February 16, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Hi NBCDipper,

    I actually thought BC-STV was far better for northern BC than MMP (Imagine a single riding with only one riding for all of norther BC, instead of two). Plus, in terms of the eventual outcome, which is determined by the compensatory seats, the few residents of northern BC would really be a drop in the bucket.

    Not that I’m against MMP, I just think northerners will have much more/better representation under BC-STV.

  6. February 17, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Another few things to consider:

    1. The northern members of the BC Citizens’ Assembly were against MMP because it would have implied a reduction in the number of constituency representatives, while STV preserves the number of MLAs in each local region.

    2. While the proportionality per district is less in the north, voters still have enhanced influence over who gets elected. In the North Central district in 2005, the Libs won 48% of the vote, the NDP won 36%, the Greens won 8%, and Paul Nettleton (ind) won about 4%. This gets interesting. With a quota of 25%, the Libs and the NDP would likely each win one seat outright, but the third seat is up for grabs – the Libs would have 23% of the 25% needed, so would probably take it, but if voter sentiment had shifted a bit so that the Libs were only polling about 45% and the NDP at 40%, then it would be Libs 20% and NDP 15% towards that last seat. Supporters of the Greens and of Paul Nettleton would then determine who would win that seat. Also, both Liberal and NDP supporters would have the final say over which candidate from their preferred party got elected first, so they can more effectively hold their MLAs accountable.

    3. The flip side of having smaller districts in the north is that every district creates at least one swing seat – ie, one seat that is in play. This means that all parties have to campaign everywhere and can’t take any region for granted. This will enhance the visibility of northern issues during the election campaign because there are more proportionately more swing seats in the north than in the more urban south, which could be viewed as partially offsetting the proportionality issue.

    4. It also means that every district will likely end up with both government and opposition MLAs, so governments will no longer be able to reward or punish ridings for voting the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways.

    5. Even if STV delivers limited proportionality in a particular local district, the overall province-wide results are likely to be highly proportional. The average difference between seat share and vote share for the winning party in BC is 20% (ie, 46% of the vote and 66% of the seats is the average result), whereas it’s about 3.5% with STV. We can therefore count on much fairer overall results with STV.

    6. With regard to women, you’re right that parties will be more likely to put up mixed slates of candidates. Two recent scholarly articles (Kaminsky (2007) and White (2006)) have discussed this question and have concluded that STV will likely enhance women’s representation. Here are a couple of quotations from these articles:
    “The [Australian] Senate, which utilises an STV voting system, has averaged more than two and a half times the percentage of women elected than the SMD House. The data confirms that multi-member district electoral systems using STV elect more women than single-member districts.”

    “The STV election system used in Ireland does not appear to be an obstacle and may, in fact, help to achieve higher levels of women’s representation as more female candidates emerge and run for the Dail. Both party magnitude and the threshold effect based on the multi-member nature of constituencies for the Dail encourage female representation.”

    For all these reasons, I see STV being as a strong democratic advance. As Mark points out, affirming reform at this stage will enable further reform (in particular, the CA recommended a formal review after three uses of BC-STV – this would be a low-effort way to propose and discuss improvements and changes). If STV does not pass, it is likely that the two big parties will turn away from reform and it will take an incredible amount of activist energy to bring this issue back to the table.

  7. February 21, 2009 at 4:42 am

    Rightly or wrongly, MMP receive very low support in northern Ontario and in the rural areas. On reason the opponentts gave was that the party “hacks” from Toronto would decide who would be on the lists and where these people would be placed. Like STV, MMP is a great voting system. Unfortunately, opponents of PR like Tieleman and Schreck would use the same arguments about MMP in BC such as party “hacks” in Vancouver and Victoria deciding who would get on the party lists. This is a very tough spin for PR supporters to counter-respond. Nevermind that a lot of party “hacks” oppose any kind of proportional representation.

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