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News release:  Assembly's recommendation to B.C.

24th October, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)
It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3

The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended Sunday that British Columbians adopt a new voting system — the Single Transferable Vote process that’s often called "as easy as 1, 2, 3."

Now the decision is up to the voters of B.C., who will cast ballots on STV in a referendum in the next provincial election, on May 17, 2005.

After almost 10 months of study, research and debate, plus 50 public hearings and 1,603 written submissions from the public, Assembly Members on Sunday overwhelmingly chose a made-in-B.C. proportional STV system as their recommendation to the people.

First, they voted on whether they thought the current electoral system, often known as First Past the Post, should be retained. The vote: 142 No, 11 Yes.

Then they voted on whether the STV model they have designed should be proposed to the people. The vote: 146 Yes, 7 No.

The provincial government says that if voters approve the STV model in May, it will introduce legislation so the new system can go into effect for the 2009 election.

The STV model was custom-built by members to meet the needs of B.C. and to address three over-riding values: local representation, voter choice, and increased "proportionality" – the concept that each party’s share of seats in the house should reflect its share of the popular vote.

"We have heard from the public," said one member on Sunday. "It’s time to give the public what they want . . . a system by the people, for the people — designed by the people, for the values of the people. That system is STV."

The voter using STV would see two key changes from the current system:

  • First, instead of writing on the ballot a single "X" for a single candidate, the voter would be able to rank candidates (1, 2, 3, and so on) according to the voter’s personal preferences.
The voter would be able to mark preferences for as many or as few candidates on the ballot as the voter wishes. The voter thus can cast preferential votes for candidates of more than one party, for independents and minorities, or all for the same party. After the polls close, the counting system gives the proper weighting to the "1, 2, 3, etc." preferences expressed by the voters, ensuring that the candidates with the highest preferences are elected.

  • Second, B.C.’s constituencies would no longer be single-MLA electoral districts as now. There would be geographically larger ridings, each with more than one MLA. The legislature would remain at 79 seats, though, so the ratio of MLAs to population would be the same as now.
The Assembly’s model would allow the size of electoral districts and the number of MLAs elected per district to vary across the province to reflect local and regional conditions. In sparsely populated areas, districts could comprise 2-3 MLAs and, in denser urban districts as many as five, six or even seven MLAs. (B.C. in the past, under the current system, has had some electoral districts with more than one MLA.)

Districts with two MLAs, such as those anticipated in northern B.C. under STV, would still be smaller than federal electoral districts. This system would not result in any reduction in the number of MLAs representing rural areas.

STV in various formats is used in Ireland, Malta, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and a number of municipalities. Ireland has had STV for most of the last 100 years. Despite attempts by government to kill STV, the Irish have repeatedly voted to keep it.

One Assembly member called STV "the voter choice system". Another called it "the people’s voice system", and added: "It can produce majority governments, or minorities and coalitions. Whatever it produces, it expresses the wishes of the voters all across B.C."

The current First Past the Post system (technically called the Single Member Plurality system, or SMP) was described by members as a familiar and understandable model that has served B.C. well, produced stable majority governments, and elected local MLAs who could represent local issues and concerns.

Said one member: "Under First Past the Post, we elect the government. We elect a majority, and it gives the government the strength to form policy and carry it out. . . . Under coalitions and minority governments (which are more likely under STV) the policies are made behind closed doors, and we will lose transparency. The tail will wag the dog."

But a pro-STV member replied: "The people of B.C. are far more sophisticated than they were 100 years ago. . . . STV as an electoral system, for me, is part of a natural evolution. . . . Accountability has been a huge issue brought to the assembly (by the public). Throwing out governments on a regular basis (under FPTP), with the massive costs due to their policy changes, is a poor form of accountability."

Added another: "I want to give to the voters of B.C. the same privilege that we have been given as members of the Assembly, and that is to decide their electoral system for themselves."

The Assembly members meet again in Vancouver November 13 and 14 to begin work on their report to the public, to draft a referendum question, and, if necessary, to fine-tune their STV model before they pass it on to the public.

The Assembly, made up of randomly selected B.C. citizens, must produce its final report by December 15, detailing and explaining the reasons for and implications of its recommendation. Then the Assembly and its office disband.

On Saturday, members turned down as an alternative to STV a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) model that they had designed. The vote was 123 to 31 in favour of STV as the best alternative to First Past the Post.

The MMP model would have given voters two votes: one for the party of their choice and one for their preferred constituency candidate. Sixty per cent of MLAs would be elected from constituencies (which would be fewer and larger) while 40 per cent would come from regional "party lists", to create proportionality. MMP is used in Germany, New Zealand, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

Debate in the Assembly on Saturday centred on the members' stated priorities of local representation, proportional representation, and voter choice. Some representative comments:

Pro-STV: "It comes down to democracy to me. . . . Elections to me are about somebody who is representing me and my interests. I haven't yet found a party that really represents me and what I believe in. I see STV as allowing me to vote for a candidate who most closely represents what I like and what issues I would like brought forward."

Added another pro-STV member: "And the person is accountable to us and not to the party."

Pro-MMP: "It optimizes local representation and proportional representation. It makes it a more meaningful choice. I can vote for a candidate who knows local issues, and I can vote for a party representative as my second vote. I think it offers an incentive for parties to clean up their act."
And another pro-MMP member added: "And it produces Proportional Representation by design, not by coincidence, and with more reliability."

Several members stressed before the vote that they would support whatever system the Assembly finally recommends. As member Sam Todd of Burnaby put it: "It's chocolate cake and strawberry shortcake, so whichever way we go we win. It's win-win."

The Assembly also announced Saturday the first resignation of a sitting member: Paola Barakat of Richmond. Her resignation, for personal reasons, leaves the Assembly's membership at 159, plus chair Jack Blaney, for a total of 160.
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