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Referendum on Electoral Reform – Are You Even Aware?

The Citizens’ Assembly has proposed a new proportional electoral system for B.C. It’s BC-STV, a version of the Single Transferable Vote system. The Assembly claims that It could be a form of proportional representation that could improve electoral democracy and fairness.

According to the Assembly:

Under the proportional BC-STV system, voters rank candidates by numbers on the ballot paper. BC-STV is designed to make every vote count, and to reflect voters’ support for candidates and parties as fairly as possible. It was proposed by the Assembly after almost 10 months of study, research and debate, plus 50 public hearings and 1,603 written submissions from the public.

About the referendum

Now it’s up to the voters of B.C., who will cast ballots on BC-STV in a referendum at the next provincial election,

On May 12, 2009 British Columbia voters will decide the following referendum question:

Referendum question ballot

BC-STV in a nutshell

The single transferable vote–a form of preferential voting–allows the voter to rank the candidates in order of preference. The proposed benefits of this type of voting system will allow for a more proportional representation of the electoral system. This system will encourage more diversity in each riding with representatives from various parties.

The results would almost always guarantee a coalition government. Remember the recent federal squabble to overthrow the Tories and to form a coalition government in this country? Boy, was that a huge debacle!

The argument for STV is said to provide fair and representative government. Opponents of this system argue against the STV that it is based on confusing calculations that don’t guarantee voters what they actually voted for because the end results are contingent on how your neighbours rank the MLAs in their ballot.

But it should be noted that STV is not the same as the mixed members proportional representation or MMP. STV is based on a cumbersome count method. It include layers of counting which will extend the counting time and very likely increase the cost of the electoral process.

Furthermore, the additional layers of counting may be prone to errors during counting. Not to mention, it may not make casting your ballot any easier for the average voter. We already know that a a large portion of people don’t vote. If the referendum passes in favour of reforming to the STV, we may still find people marking an ‘X’ beside only one candidate. In the countries (such as Ireland and Australia) that have adopted MMP/PR election systems, voters are simply just “voting above the line“.

The case for the first past the post system

The first past the post system (FPTP) is the current voting system we have in place in Canada, the UK, and the US. It is simple plurality, a single winner-takes-all. The foremost setback of the FPTP system is that it is not proportionally representative. It is essentially the ‘right of the majority’ platform–and in some cases, a slim majority.

But anyone who has run for any type of election (in school, college/university, in an association or organization) know that the purpose of an election is to give the candidate the opportunity to leadership. In a political election, the candidate or party is given 4 years to execute their political agenda. By the end of the 4-year term, they may be reelected or step down. Leaders are wholly accountable for their performance and state of affairs under their leadership.

In a coalition government, are parties and leaders proportionally accountable? Moreover, how does one change the recipe of the mix of representatives? A major problem with coalition governments is that implementing change or restructuring can be painstakingly slow and or ineffective. Changing the oligopoly and status quo can also be challenging.

History have shown us that socialist platforms are inefficient. We don’t need an election system similar to a cooking recipe, we need better politicians!

Why does your vote in the referendum matter?

In the last referendum in 2005 on this issue, it was not passed because it did not meet the ‘clear majority’ rule of 60%. Nonetheless, 58% of voters voted in favour of implementing the STV. Does that actually reflect that a majority of Canadians want this? Not exactly. It simply represents 58% of voters who know about the referendum voted in favour. Unfortunately, many Canadians are oblivious to the election process–let alone the referendum on election reform.

I have listened to both sides of the argument. The more I listen and follow this debate, the more I appreciate the existing FPTP system. In one debate, I’ve heard a very weak argument against STV based on the complicated and confusing calculations. That in itself, I thought to myself, is not sufficient to vote against it. But I thought about the accountability (or lack of it) and realised how the current system has maintained a long-standing, free, and democratic society.

As Canadians, we need to purge this wishy-washy attitude and stand up for common sense and democracy. On May 12, say ‘NO’ to Socialism and say ‘GOODBYE’ to wishy-washy politics!

See how the STV count works:

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Elections BC

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