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News release - Weekend wrapup

17th October, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)
Assembly decision next weekend

Members of B.C.'s Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform expect to decide next weekend whether to recommend that the people of B.C. adopt a new electoral system, or to recommend that we stick to the current way of translating votes into seats in the legislature.

Assembly members spent Saturday and Sunday designing a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system model – one that they think could work in B.C. This followed on their design of a proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) model on the weekend of September 25-26.  (See the September 26 news release for full details.)

Members next weekend will pick one of these as the best potential model for B.C. Then they will carefully compare its pluses and minuses with those of the current " First Past the Post" electoral system.

And they are then expected to cap next weekend by settling on their recommendation to the B.C. public: Vote on a new system, or stick with the one we have.

If the Assembly recommends a new system, then voters will have their say on it in a referendum held with the next provincial election, on May 17, 2005. The B.C. government has said that if voters approve a change, the new electoral system would go into effect for the election of 2009. If Assembly members opt to stay with the current system, then there would be no referendum.

The Citizens' Assembly is an independent, representative, non-partisan group of 160 randomly selected British Columbians, plus chair Jack Blaney. They have a deadline of December 15 to report to British Columbians on their recommendation, its details and implications, and their reasons. Then the Assembly will disband.

Under the MMP model the members crafted, 60% of B.C.’s 79 MLAs would be elected directly as constituency representatives. One impact would be that constituencies would be larger. The other 40% of MLAs would come from lists of names prepared by the parties, with seats allocated so that, in the end, each party's share of seats roughly mirrors its popular vote.

Among other features of the members’ made-in-B.C. MMP model:

  • Voters would have two votes on their ballots, one for a constituency member and one covering the party list vote.
  • They would vote for their constituency candidate using the Alternative Vote (AV) system, in which voters would rank the candidates by putting 1,2,3, etc. next to their names. If no candidate got a majority of votes on the first count, the second preferences listed on the ballots of the least successful candidate would be distributed among the remaining candidates. This process would continue until one candidate does have a majority.
  • Voters would vote for party-list candidates drawn from their region. But list seats would be allocated based on the province-wide vote, to ensure proportionality.
  • Party lists would be “open”, with voters able to rank candidates on the list (as opposed to “closed” lists, where the order of candidates is determined only by the parties). And a party would have to get at least 3% of the province-wide popular vote to get any list seats.
  • The AV system would also be used for byelections in constituency seats.
A few details of the MMP model were put off until next weekend, including the question of how vacancies for party-list seats would be filled between general elections.

MMP is now used in countries that include New Zealand and Germany, though no two countries use precisely the same model.

On Saturday, members were told by a visiting expert that no electoral system will guarantee that more women will be elected as MLAs -- a question that has been long and often raised in Assembly discussions.

"There is no magic solution," said Prof. Lisa Young of the University of Calgary. "There is no electoral system that will guarantee that the legislature will look like this body and less like today's legislatures." (The Assembly's membership of 160 is, by mandate, made up of 80 women and 80 men. B.C.'s population is almost 52% female, but women hold only 24% of the seats in the current legislature.)

Some other points made by Young:

  • "Culture matters tremendously. . . . There is a negative perception about women breaking 'the unwritten code' when they do what men do in politics. . . . And there is still something about politics that women are saying, 'I don't know, it's not for me', and they tune out."
  • "Women's representation has increased faster under Proportional Representation than under other systems, but there is no guarantee. . . . I can't stress enough how important is what the parties decide to do, how they construct their lists and select their candidates."
  • "The electoral system may facilitate more representation of women, but, short of a quota system, it does not guarantee it. . . . My worry is that any woman who gets elected through a quota is going to have to prove herself more."
  • "There is no evidence, since the mid-1980s, that . . . the parties (in Canada) are overtly discriminating against women as candidates. . . . But some of the research done suggests that women and members of visible minority groups felt that they were asked to run in hopeless ridings."
Next weekend’s meetings are open to the public, and take place at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue in downtown Vancouver, starting at 8:30 a.m. each day. 
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