by Jeff and Diana Jewell
The May 17 provincial election will be the most important in the history of BC, quite possibly in the history of Canada. But the crucial vote is the referendum on electoral reform, not which candidate or party you vote for.
We will decide whether BC becomes the first province in Canada to adopt a voting system that is fair to everyone. You can do this by voting yes for the single transferable vote (STV), as recommended by the nonpartisan Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, after an 11-month study.
So don’t waste much time thinking about whom you’ll vote for in this election, because with our present first-past-the-post (FPP) voting system, it doesn’t much matter; the Liberals are likely going to win, and unless we have a new voting system, there is very little chance far into the future that this inequity will change.
Big business is firmly behind Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals and the party has made a strong start to its campaign despite the long list of actions it took that displeased so many British Columbians.
With FPP it’s virtually impossible to see that the NDP and Green parties will accomplish more than canceling each other out because of vote splitting and the “wasted vote” syndrome; under FPP, the winner often has less than half of votes cast, and less than one-third of eligible votes.
Although many voters really care a lot about environmental and social issues (such as hospital closings), they can’t have their preference translated into government policy with FPP.
If we vote yes on the referendum question on adopting the improved STV voting system, in future elections the single transferable vote would allow people to express their preference and have it show up in a more proportional, diverse and co-operative government. We could elect several Green and other smaller party members if they field strong candidates, more NDP members and independents, and have the power to hold the more extreme ideas of the governing party in check. This voting system has worked exceptionally well for the people of Ireland and Australia, and they love it .
If we don’t vote in favour of STV in BC but wish for some other system, like mixed member proportional, as some people and parties seem to prefer, it would be like wishing on a star, because no other system is up for vote, and in our studies, we have found that BC-STV gives a very good measure of proportionality, as you will see if you look at the animated and easy-to-understand explanation of it at http://citizensassembly.bc.ca/resources/flash/bc-stv-full.swf and
Failing to vote for the excellent option that is available would leave us stuck with FPP and all its negative campaigning, low voter turnout as people feel their vote doesn’t count, cynicism and disrespect for politics and politicians, strategic voting for the lesser of evils instead of what they would truly prefer, and majority governments being formed as in 1996 when the NDP got fewer total votes than the Liberals, and in 2001 when the Liberals swept 97 percent of the seats with only 57 percent of the votes, and the NDP got 3 percent of the seats with 22 percent of the vote. If the no side wins May 17 we will be stuck with more of this unfairness and negativity with no hope of a better system.
This is why we feel that it is even more important to vote yes on the BC-STV referendum than for any of the parties or candidates you vote for on May 17.
Some people are concerned about technical details like how STV works with ridings, but the Citizen’s Assembly took great care to make it fair. The number of voters per elected member would remain about the same as it is now. Australian Green Party Senator Bob Brown, when asked about the complexity of STV vote counting, explained that “the extreme fairness comes from its exquisite complexity.” He also said that most citizens in his state, where STV has been used for about 90 years, have no concern about such details, and he assured us that it is no more necessary for people to understand such technicalities than it is for them to know how a car is built in order to use it.
There are some even bigger positive implications in voting yes and instituting the new BC-STV system. It would be promoting a much better and fairer democracy for our province, and it would also be an excellent example for Ontario and Quebec which are also looking at electoral reform. If it were adopted in BC, Ontario and Quebec, there would be a good case for adopting this fairer and more democratic system in federal politics. This would clean up the dictatorships of the prime minister and premiers’ offices and set an example for the US, which is hopelessly stuck in its big money two-party system.
BC-STV would normally produce minority governments which in many countries provide stable, more responsive and accountable government. What would this mean? It generally promotes more co-operation and problem solving instead of the “attack and destroy” mentality we have across the country. We are known abroad as mild-mannered peaceful people, and we believe that is our true character, but our FPP voting system turns our whole political process into an unseemly mess. Shouldn’t we, the voters of BC, set the example and be the first to choose a better voting system?
When people see that they are free to express their true preference with BC-STV and not worry about wasted votes, and when they see that they can elect a positive, problem-solving government that works for them and not just for the rich sponsors of the ruling party, they would likely come out and vote in greater numbers and maybe even get involved in politics. Our young people could then respect politics and politicians, and we would be respected by our fellow Canadians for having the foresight to find a way to clean up our political act.
Many people are either completely unaware of the referendum on voting reform, or are feeling suspicious or negative about it. The two ruling parties like the fact that, under FPP, they may get lucky and form “illegitimate” majority governments and keep their power, as in the 1996 and 2001 elections, and they don’t want to lose that power.
To protect their vested interests in maintaining the status quo, there appears to be a covert negative campaign coming from the backroom power brokers of those parties, even though they are officially neutral.
Although the BC Liberal Party kept its promise to offer electoral reform, and initiated the random selection of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform (a group of 160 nonpartisan members one male and one female from every riding in BC) for an in-depth, 11-month study of the question, the Liberals failed to provide resources to educate the voting public about the merits of BC-STV. This is a good way to kill the referendum because people won’t usually vote on something they don’t know about, or they have some doubt about.
We can’t let the best chance for true democracy and crucial reform slip through our fingers. If you’re not persuaded, study the reports of the Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform at www.citizensassembly.bc.ca and to learn the issues: www.fairvotingbc.ca and www.stvforbc.com.
The most important thing you can do for our province and our democracy is to get out on May 17 and vote yes for BC-STV, a new voting system that would put a lot more power in the hands of the people and clean up our political system.
Jeff and Diana Jewell have no party affiliations, but in the 2000 electionboth ran as candidates for the Canadian Action Party. They are social activists dedicated to bringing democracy to BC and Canada. They support the principle of proportional representation and having the will of the people be represented fairly.You may contact them at email@example.com