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Newsletter - #17

19th October, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)

Assembly builds second contender
Assembly members spent Saturday and Sunday (October 16&17) designing a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system model – one that they think could work in BC. This followed their design of a proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) model on September 25-26.

Next weekend, members will pick one of these as the best alternative model for BC. Then they will carefully compare its pluses and minuses with those of our province’s current electoral system, First-Past-the-Post.

They are then expected to wrap up the weekend by settling on their recommendation to the people of BC: stick with the electoral system we now have or change to a new system.

If the Assembly recommends a new system, voters will have their say in a referendum held with the next election, on May 17, 2005. The government has said that, if voters approve a change, legislation would be introduced allowing the new electoral system to go into effect for the 2009 BC election.

If Assembly members opt to stay with the current system, then there would be no referendum.

Under the MMP model the members crafted, 60% of BC’s 79 MLAs would be elected directly as constituency representatives. One consequence of this 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 each party's share of the total seats in the legislature mirrors its province-wide popular vote.

Among other features of the members’ made-in-BC MMP model:

• Voters would have two votes, one for a constituency member and one for a party.

• They would vote for their constituency candidate using the Alternative Vote (AV) system, in which voters can rank candidates by putting 1,2,3, etc. next to their names. This would ensure that constituency candidates always had the majority support in their ridings.

• 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, allowing voters to select their preferred candidates from the parties’ lists – as opposed to closed lists, where the parties determine the order in which candidates are elected.

• 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 what the ballot for party-list seats would look like.

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

Women in politics
An ongoing concern of Assembly members has been the chronic under-representation of women in politics. 

On Saturday, members were told by a visiting expert that no electoral system will guarantee that more women will be elected.

"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 made up of 80 women and 80 men. BC'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 [for women] … 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."

Decision looms
Members expect to decide next weekend (October 23& 24) whether to recommend that the people of BC adopt a new electoral system – and, if so, which one – or stick to the current way of translating votes into seats in the legislature.

Assembly meetings are held at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St., Vancouver.  All plenary sessions are open to the public, but seating is limited.  We anticipate that seating will be especially tight this coming weekend, so please do arrive early.

Saturday meetings usually run from 8:30am to 5pm with breaks.  Sunday sessions are usually held from 8:30am to 12:30pm.

The Assembly’s schedule of future meetings is:
October 23-24
November 13-14
November 27-28 

In addition, you can obtain information from the Assembly’s office – such as Preliminary Statements or fact sheets.  Just call us at 1-866-667-1232.

Hansard TV
Hansard TV is, once again, broadcasting our plenary sessions.  All broadcasts of Assembly sessions will take place on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at 9am, and will be broadcast on a continuous loop.  (The two September Assembly sessions were broadcast this past weekend.)

Here’s the schedule of upcoming broadcasts:

On Saturday October 23 and Sunday October 24, the Assembly’s October 16-17 sessions will be broadcast.

On Saturday October 30 and Sunday October 31, the Assembly’s October 23-24 sessions will be broadcast.

On Saturday November 20 and Sunday November 21, our November 13-14 sessions will be broadcast.

On Saturday December 4 and Sunday December 5, the Assembly’s November 27-28 sessions will be broadcast.

Future broadcast dates are also being considered.
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