Saturday, March 28, 2009

BCSTV - It's not a TV show, its a referendum

That's right. BC is about to have a provincial election. And in addition to deciding who our local representatives will be, voters here will be asked whether they want to keep the current "First past the Post" style of elections or whether they'd like to try an alternative, called a Single Transferable Vote, or BCSTV, as they call it here.

This is the second time in four years that voters will be asked to decide. in 2005, a majority of voters (58.6%) said they wanted to switch. But the government decided that we'd need 60% to change, so the motion was not put into place by the government. However, it was so close to passing - and in 77 of 79 ridings it received a majority of votes - the government decided they'd hold the referendum again.

That 2005 referendum came after a Citizens' Assembly, made up of a man and a woman randomly chosen from every riding in the province, spent a year deciding whether the system of voting in BC should be changed. They recommended that the province should adopt a single transferable voting system, which was the questions put to a referendum.

On May 12, BC voters are going to get a second chance to make electoral history here in Canada. Today's picture was taken at a information meeting I attended the other night and it illustrates the biggest problem facing supporters -- no one seems to know about the upcoming vote and no one really seems to care.

Whether its apathy or just lack of awareness is hard to tell. Although the election is less than a couple of months away, there has been very little discussion about BCSTV. Most people seem unaware that the measure is on the ballot again. And that's OK with the folks who would prefer to keep the status quo, which is pretty much all of the elected officials and the party types who surround them. The first past the post system is an adversarial structure that rewards the winners, and is a prize worth fighting for if you're on the winning side. And even if you're not, there's always the hope that you'll take the next round, then your party will be in the driver's seat.

From what I've seen and heard, there are two things happening. First, supporters of the BCSTV process are concerned that counting the votes would be complicated. The people opposed to BCSTV have seized on the complexity issue and intend to make it the debating point. They are warning that it would be too complicated and lead to all kinds of delays on election night and confusion about winners and how they were chosen.

That argument is nonsense, as anyone who has studied the process can attest, including many European countries, as well as New Zealand, that use a STV system to elect their representatives.

Unfortunately, BCSTV supporters are playing along and spend valuable time trying to explain the counting process. But it's not the process that matters - it's the results. The first past the post system we use now regularly results in majority governments that do not refect the majority of votes cast. The BCSTV model would reflect the popular vote and we'd end up with MLAs in numbers that by and large matched the votes their party received.

If you're interested, I'd urge you to visit some of the websites that are online and dedicated to explaining the process, such as:
British Columbians for BC-STV
Fair Voting BC
Fair Vote Canada

Although there weren't that many people at the meeting I attended, there were some good lines that people were encouraged to use when talking to their neighbours.

"The First Past the Post system was invented when we didn't know where the sun went at night!"

Another urged us to adopt a well-known phrase that seemed to work south of the border earlier this year:

"Can we come up with a fairer voting system?"

"Yes we can."

The video below might help those who are interested understand what's going to happen.

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