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Newsletter - #12
15th June, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)
The Assembly holds its 39th public hearing today. This week, hearings take place in the Interior and on Salt Spring Island. And next week they move to the Okanagan and the East Kootenays. The 50th and final hearing will be held in Kelowna on June 24th.
Following the hearings, the Assembly meets as a whole in Prince George over the weekend of June 25-27. At this session, members will discuss what they heard from British Columbians and compare notes from the hearings. They will also review the (by then) 700 or so submissions.
Another objective of this meeting is to come to agreement on how the Assembly will conduct the deliberation phase this fall – what process members will use to come to a decision and formulate a recommendation.
The Assembly’s mandate requires it to issue a report and recommendation to the people of BC by mid-December.
The following are excerpts from news releases summarizing the last two weeks of hearings.
News release: June 5
Support widespread for mixed system
With the devil certainly in the detail, dozens of British Columbians told members of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform their individual visions for how to improve BC's electoral system.
Students and a number of younger presenters were among those joining the chorus for change during hearings in Sechelt and Abbotsford as well as in Surrey, Coquitlam, North Vancouver and Whistler.
Five grade 11 and 12 students from Rockridge Secondary School, West Vancouver, tackled the issue of voter alienation Wednesday night in North Vancouver. Under their proposal for a mixed electoral system, 50 per cent of seats in the Legislature would be allocated to local representatives elected under a majority system using a preferential ballot. The remaining seats would be chosen using a proportional system.
At the same hearing, SFU student Tom Cornwall warmed to a similar theme, suggesting that strict party control of MLAs made voters feel "local representation is meaningless". Later in the hearing, Chris Shaw added:
"What we really see with youth is that they are voting with their feet; they are simply not going to the ballot box." And
in Whistler Thursday, Sara Jennings said more youth would vote if they felt their vote would count and that "the result would somehow resemble their views."
The need for BC's electoral system to reflect the diversity of its population, while being simple and easy to understand, was also discussed. In Surrey Monday night, James Proctor said each registered voter should receive a "voter's guide" prior to an election to help them select a party and the candidates.
Several speakers liked the idea of two ballots. In Sechelt, Arnett Tuffs said votes for the party should be decided based upon proportional representation, but said votes for local candidates could be counted using the current first-past-the-post system. And in Coquitlam, Drew Carmichael said that a mixed member proportional system (MMP) would be the best choice for BC because it's simple, would allow more representation for women and minorities, and would make voters feel their votes counted.
Demand for MMP was widespread amongst presenters at every hearing this week. MMP was given a twist in Whistler, where Doug Morrison outlined his proposal for fractional voting – where MLAs’ voting power is weighted according to the size of their riding. He said it would allow citizens in ridings of different population sizes to have the same voting power. In Coquitlam, Stephen Broscoe felt MMP would work if the seats in the legislature were increased to 100 from the current 79.
Consensual - rather than adversarial - government also scored high marks. Assembly members were told not to fear coalition, or minority government. Backing MMP, Alison Watt said in North Vancouver: "We need more views in the Legislature to deal with complex issues that are facing this province." And in Sechelt, Alun Woolliams added: “A quick acting government that does not act in the best interest of the majority is not an effective government. Coalitions and governments with strong oppositions are more likely to make more moderate and stable policy decisions with a broader base of support.”
News release: June 12
British Columbians weigh in
British Columbians once again this week demonstrated their strong interest in and deep concern for the province’s electoral and political systems.
Members of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform heard from residents of Vancouver Island, the Northwest and the Lower Mainland. Many spoke passionately from their personal experience and conviction, while others detailed the intricacies of carefully-crafted electoral models based on many hours of meticulous original research.
Recommendations literally covered the full gamut of electoral system options – with the majority calling for change. Many also expressed concerns and views that went far beyond the realm of electoral systems – and beyond the scope of the Assembly’s mandate.
Again, electoral models that incorporated some form of proportionality dominated the recommendations. However, there was remarkable variation in how that proportionality should be achieved and how much proportionality was desirable.
Based on her extensive research, Sylvia Korican recommended retaining our current system with the addition of as few as 8 MLAs selected to improve proportionality. Others suggested 10 or 16 proportional MLAs. Still other proponents of the mixed member proportional (MMP) system suggested that up to that 50 per cent of the legislature be composed of MLAs selected to achieve proportionality. However, there were many different thoughts on how these proportional MLAs should be selected. Few supported a pure proportional representation (PR) system.
A number of proponents of proportionality preferred the single transferable vote (STV) system because it allows voters greater choice by giving them the option of ranking candidates on the ballot. It also reduces party control of candidates. Several speakers detailed how STV has been successfully used in Ireland.
In the North, some expressed support for proportionality – as long as it did not mean an increase to the size of the already vast northern ridings. Others, however, argued that local representatives are irrelevant because they cannot represent their ridings due to party discipline.
Several offered cautions related to proportional systems. Jason Clemens, of the Fraser Institute, warned that proportional electoral systems “are far more likely to be characterized by coalition and minority governments” which, according to research, tend to result in “larger government sectors characterized by increased spending and increased taxation.”
Speaking for the Vancouver Board of Trade, Dave Park also cautioned that an electoral system with more than a relatively small proportional component “would likely lead to political and economic instability.”
Support for non-proportional models was also voiced. Several speakers defended the existing plurality (or first-past-the-post) system. Carol Hartwig cautioned the Assembly that electoral reform was not the answer to all BC’s political woes, nor was proportionality “a panacea for what ails us politically in this province.” Neil Sutherland outlined how adjusting the current system by incorporating multi-member ridings provided the benefits of proportionality without the drawbacks.
Dave Flavell, David Godfrey and Arpal Dosanjh promoted the alternative vote (AV) system – a majority system used in BC in the 1952 and 1953 elections – which requires candidates to win by a clear 50-per-cent majority in their ridings. Others also supported use of the preferential ballot – which allows ranking of candidates – but in other types of electoral systems.
Michael Wheatley strongly advised the Assembly to select an electoral model that British Columbians would embrace and endorse should there be a referendum. “I would rather you recommend a flawed system that is more likely to be adopted than have you recommend an ideal system that has less chance of being adopted.”
Vancouver City Councillor Sam Sullivan recommended that citizens’ assemblies be constituted prior to every election to rigorously review parties, candidates and platforms and offer voters a considered opinion.
Making British Columbians’ views heard
Presentation summaries are posted to the Assembly’s website following each hearing. If you wish to present at one of the few remaining hearings, you can sign up on our website or call our office.
We now have over 600 submissions posted on our website and another 100 or so being processed. You can add your views by providing your submission via our website, e-mailing it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailing it to our office.