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February 4, 2009

BC-STV is Not Reform

Reform: 1 a: to put or change into an improved form or condition b: to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

The definition of "reform" is why a change from our current electoral system to the single transferable vote, BC-STV, cannot be called "electoral reform". STV is not an improvement as it would move B.C. back to the days of constituencies with more than one MLA.

Definitions are a problem that plagues serious consideration of BC-STV. Proponents argue that it would give British Columbians fair election results, effective local representation and greater voter choice. In the words of one member of the Assembly: "The problem is I've had people say why did you choose a non-proportional system?" She went on to propose a solution, approved by the Assembly, of claiming that BC-STV would deliver: "Fair election results through proportionality." Other members of the Assembly said that many systems are fair, including our current system. It is surprising that it took until one of the last meetings of the Assembly to have a hurried, 15 minute, debate on the concepts of fairness and proportionality. Don't take my word, click on the tape for the second session on November 27th and listen from 23 minutes into the tape through 37 minutes into it (MP3 format, 14Mb). Alternatively, consider whether STV delivers proportionality and what is fair.

Voters in Malta have found that STV cannot be counted on to provide proportionality. On four occasions with the use of STV, including their last election in 2008, voters in Malta gave a higher percentage of the vote to a party that won fewer seats. After the constitutional crisis that caused in 1981, Malta amended its constitution to add seats when STV produces results that are so unfair. Ontario's Assembly went further in considering what is fair and said it might require that each vote carry an equal weight in electing MLAs. STV doesn't do that as fractions of some votes get distributed to several candidates while others don't. More fundamentally, BC-STV operates differently in electoral areas with 2 or 3 MLAs from what it does in areas with 6 or 7 MLAs. That is not fair.

The claim that BC-STV would provide effective local representation defies logic. In large multiple-MLA electoral areas, all of the MLAs could come from one community and former single member constituencies could end up with no MLA living within its boundaries. More fundamental is the concept of equal effective representation as defined by the Supreme Court of Canada when it dealt with electoral boundaries. It is hard to see how there can be equal effective representation between the Northeast with 2 MLAs and the Capital Region with 7 MLAs when one would elect MLAs with 33.3% of the vote and the other with just 12.5%. Neither the B.C. Citizens' Assembly nor the government has published a constitutional opinion on whether that inequality would withstand a Charter challenge, but you can be almost certain that a court decision would be necessary before the implementation of BC-STV.

Without defining choice, the B.C. Citizens' Assembly "fact sheet" claimed that BC-STV gives voters more choice. In its November 2005 report, Ontario's Select Committee on Electoral Reform said: "Measuring voter choice may include the number of votes, categorical (i.e., one choice) versus ordinal (or preferential) balloting, the opportunity for vote-splitting (i.e., between parties, between candidates, or between party and candidate), the number of candidates and the number and diversity of political parties." With our current system every voter gets one vote to elect one MLA, but with BC-STV every voter would get one vote to elect two or more MLAs. STV offers preferential balloting, but the numbers are instructions which may or may not come into play during the count; they are not separate votes. STV may offer the opportunity for vote-splitting for those voters whose vote is split into two or more fractions for redistribution, but transfer analysis in areas that use STV show that feature is not commonly used. B.C. has more political parties than Ireland and under our current system parties as diverse as Social Credit, Reform, Liberals, NDP and PDA have held seats at the same time. In Ireland one political party Fianna Fáil has held power for most of the country's history. It takes a very unusual and narrow definition of choice to claim that STV offers more choice.

Our current electoral system is fairer and provides better representation and more choice than anything BC-STV could deliver.


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