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HEARD AT THE HEARINGS
In May and June 2004, Assembly members held 50 public hearings all over B.C., in communities large and small.
A total of 387 people made oral presentations, and many more members of the public made informal presentations, offered recommendations and comments, and asked questions at the sessions. More than 2,700 members of the public attended hearings -- including 50 in Smithers on the same night as the final game of the Stanley Cup series.
Here's an overview of what Assembly members heard at the hearings. For summaries of individual presentations please click here.
» CALLS FOR CHANGE
The most commonly heard call for change was for some form of Proportional Representation (PR), in which the seats won in the legislature would, at least approximately, reflect the parties' share of the popular vote, either across B.C. as a whole or in regions.
The biggest single call for a form of PR was for some variety of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) representation. In this approach, some legislature seats would be won by MLAs in geographical constituencies, and other seats would be allocated from pre-published "party lists" of candidates' names, to achieve the goal of seat-shares reflecting vote-shares.
Many speakers argued in favour of MMP in concept, and did not get into specifics. ("You Assembly members can figure out the details," was an oft-heard comment.)
While many presenters and speakers supported the principle of PR, there were often calls for restrictive "thresholds", ranging from 2% to 4-5% or even 10% of the vote. A political party would be required to get at least such a proportion of the popular vote to win any seats. This would, in effect, limit the degree of proportionality in practice. Proponents argue that such thresholds work to exclude fringe parties.
Members also heard recommendations for use of the Single Transferable Vote, Alternative Vote and other systems in which voters can rank candidates on the ballot in order of the individual voter's preferences. Various counting and preference-transfer and run-off systems were recommended, with the idea that, in the end, each MLA elected should have a majority of at least 50%+1 of the choices cast.
Some tempered calls for specific PR systems with pleas that large rural ridings not be further increased in size to accommodate a new electoral system. Rural speakers in particular often said also that having an identifiable "local" MLA is important to them.
There were proposals for 'None of The Above' options on ballots, yes-no votes, and more.
» CALLS FOR NO CHANGE
Assembly members anticipated that, by the very nature of the exercise, advocates of change who came forward would outnumber those who proposed that B.C. retain its current First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral process, and those who simply remained silent.
That said, a number of presenters and members of the audience did speak in favour of retaining the current plurality system. That is and remains an option for the Assembly to recommend under its mandate.
Many of the defenders of the FPTP system pointed to what they saw as "failures and defects" in PR systems used in other countries, including minority and coalition governments that they described as unstable and/or ineffective and/or costly.
» CALLS FOR CHANGES IN POLITICS
Many speakers took the opportunity at public hearings to criticize various aspects of "politics as practiced".
They decried such things as party discipline and control over MLAs, campaign financing, adversarial party politics, adversarial behaviour in the legislature, the "under-representation" of women, First Nations, youth, minority groups and others, the role (and even the existence) of parties, broken political promises, and the systems used by parties to nominate their election candidates.
Some called for the voting age to be lowered, in the hopes of improving voter turnout and the engagement of young people. A handful argued for voting to be made compulsory, with a fine for evasion; a few proposed, instead, that turnout be encouraged by giving voters a tax credit if they do cast ballots.
Some called for direct popular election of the premier and/or cabinet ministers, or election of these officials by the Legislature as a whole, and some proposed weighted votes for MLAs in the legislature. Some called for limited terms of office for MLAs, and some for mid-term elections. A few called for B.C. to have its own second chamber or senate. A handful called for random selection of MLAs.
Many of these issues were and are outside the mandate of the Citizens' Assembly, although it is conceivable that, if the members were to recommend some particular form of electoral system, that might affect the candidate-nomination process.
While defenders of the FPTP system frequently argued that minority and coalition governments are a negative, many presenters in favour of PR proposed that that minority and coalition governments would change politics and their workings for the better. They contended that changing to PR systems would improve cooperation, harmony and consensus-making in the legislature. And many saw MMP systems as likely to improve representation of under-represented groups and interests, and to improve voter turnout.
» THE ASSEMBLY AND THE FUTURE
Many presenters and speakers praised the Assembly and its work, and expressed confidence in the members. But some expressed concern that the mandate of the Asssembly is limited to the question of how votes translate into seats in the legislature.
And many expressed concern about what happens after the Assembly makes its final report by December 15. If the Assembly does recommend change, what would happen between then and the resulting referendum on May 17, 2005? Would there be an educational program for the public? (That question remains to be answered.) What would a referendum question look like? Complicated or a simple yes-no? (Another question that remains to be answered.)
Concerns were expressed at public hearings about the legislated 60% vote required to pass a referendum, and about whether the new government elected in 2005 would in fact act on the referendum results if approved by the voters. (The current provincial government has said that if the vote passes, the new electoral system would be in effect for the election in 2009. But, technically, no government can "bind" a following government to an action.)