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Newsletter - #18
26th October, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)
Assembly reaches decision
The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended Sunday that British Columbians adopt a new voting system – the Single Transferable Vote system that’s often called “as easy as 1, 2, 3.”
Now the decision is up to the voters of BC, 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-BC proportional STV system as their recommendation to the people.
First, the Assembly voted on whether they thought the current electoral system, often known as First Past the Post, should be retained. The vote was: 142 No, 11 Yes.
Then they voted on whether the STV model they 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 BC 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.”
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 BC.”
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 BC 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.
Another member replied: “The people of BC 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 BC the same privilege that we have been given as members of the Assembly, and that is to decide their electoral system for themselves.”
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.
Debate in the Assembly on Saturday centred on the members' stated priorities of local representation, proportional representation and voter choice.
Members’ comments included:
"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 member: "And the person is accountable to us and not to the party."
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."
STV: As easy as 1, 2, 3
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, BC’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 unchanged.
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. (BC 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 BC under STV, would still be smaller than federal electoral districts. STV 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 almost a century. Despite attempts by government to kill STV, the Irish have repeatedly voted to keep it.
The Assembly members next meet November 13 - 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.
Their final meeting will be November 27-28. Their Final Report is due December 15 and the Assembly and its staff disband December 31.
Assembly meetings are held at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St., Vancouver. All plenary sessions are open to the public.
Saturday meetings usually run from 8:30am to 5pm with breaks. Sunday sessions are usually held from 8:30am to 12:30pm.
Where to get more information
More information on the Assembly and STV can be found on the Assembly’s website www.citizensassembly.bc.ca. Additional resources are being developed and will be available shortly.
On the website, you can find:
• A link on our home page to a list of STV resources
• Video and audio recordings of all Assembly plenary sessions
• Documents provided to Assembly members
• Information on a variety of electoral systems, with links and recommended reading
• Over 1600 submissions to the Assembly
• Summary records from 50 public hearings.
In addition, you can obtain information – such as fact sheets – from the Assembly’s office. Just call us at 1-866-667-1232.
Hansard TV is broadcasting Assembly plenary sessions. These broadcasts will take place on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at 9am. This is the schedule:
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 aired.
Future broadcast dates are also being considered.
The Assembly just announced its first resignation: Paola Barakat of Richmond. She resigned her membership for personal reasons, leaves the Assembly's membership at 159, plus chair Jack Blaney, for a total of 160.