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BC STV is Dead, Long Live Electoral Reform!

May 14, 2009

Status quo reigns in BC today. The Liberals are in, STV is out, and the question most British Columbians are asking today is, “will the Canucks ever bring the Stanley Cup home?”

I’m not sure about the “truthiness” of that last statement, but I can’t resist a punch line, especially when I’m bummed.

BC’s voters have spoken, and have roundly rejected BC-STV. This time, unlike in 2005, when it missed its 60 % super-majority hurdle by an agonizingly close 2%, a true majority (of the voters who turned out)  has won its day.

It is a system that I believed in and endorsed. But, let’s face it, marketing this one to the masses was a tough row to hoe. Though both sides had a lot to work with, “No-STV” had the advantage.

There are reasons for the system’s poor showing; its inability to be easily understood; experienced pundits overseeing its opposition; inability to get the vote out in a broad way, or maybe the idea of cooperative government was generally taken by people to mean an icky coalition government.

The deciding factor for this referendum was that the majority of people who voted were comfortable enough with the present first-past-the-post system that they prefer it to something unfamiliar. The incredibly lopsided results of ’96 and ’01 are two elections behind us, leaving us with the much more acceptable yet moderately skewed results of 2009.

I don’t believe, as Christy Clark facetiously remarked, “people must be very happy with the present system.  Even Bill Tieleman, the outspoken No to STV president, alluded to some other breed of electoral reform at some vague point in the future.

The movement for electoral reform had been quietly growing in the years before the Citizen’s Assembly for Electoral Reform was created. The events and resulting community building of the last four years has awakened, amongst a broad group of people, the idea that there are other electoral systems in existence than the one we all grew up with. After only an hour of the final result, members of the STV for BC Facebook group were talking about bringing this to the municipal level.

Though I am disappointed, if this recent push helped plant the seeds of electoral reform in more Canadians’ minds, and should the resulting discussion organically develop into of an organized movement, I could be happy with that.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2009 7:53 pm

    I can’t help but wonder if it might have been a better idea to do what they did in New Zealand: have one referendum asking if people actually want a change in electoral system, and then a second one to decide what kind to adopt. In that way, the easiest decision – the negative one, if you like – is made first, and then they are committed to make a positive decision.

    I think you may be right, though. Now that the seed of the possibility has been planted in people’s minds, it’ only a matter of time.

  2. marakardasnelson permalink*
    May 15, 2009 8:09 am

    I’m shocked by the low voter turnout. What do we have to do to get people to actually care, and take a few minutes out of their day to vote? It’s appalling and baffling to me that so few people are politically involved, even in such a minute (yet awesomely powerful way) as casting a vote once every few months/years. Eesh, I feel disheartened.

  3. nmboudin permalink
    May 14, 2009 11:10 pm

    It makes me happy that people are thinking about electoral reform now. From the time I first heard of it in 2004 till now is actually not that long in terms of a fundamental change in immense societal change. I know now that many people have been waiting longer than I have for this.

    I am trying to get away from seeing this so much as a missed opportunity, even as I grieve. The debate may have kick-started a phenomenon where it is more than just political scientists talking about theories in a bubble, or even Citizen’s Assemblies in highly-publicized government sponsored initiatives (not to detract from its uniqueness), but regular working people and students. That it is still a relatively small group does not matter so much as that the idea is out there now.

    If change will come, maybe it has to be from people spontaneously talking to each other, so that a movement forms organically, instead of coming as an alien thing to the masses.

    Shoulld a phoenix rise from STV’s ashes, it will probably be helped along by the network of hard working people that would not have existed if they had been excited by the hope that it could be this time. That is something real, and we need to take that and run with it, regardless of whether any future government may or may not put this on a ballot. It may take time, but electoral reform does not need to be over. There are ways to drive things to the top of agendas, and one of the good things about living in Canada is that most of them are legal.

  4. Susan permalink
    May 14, 2009 9:28 pm

    I didn’t vote for STV, not because I’m afraid of coalition government, or because I couldn’t understand the system, but because the ridings would be larger, and there would be many more candidates in each riding. It seems to me that it would be very difficult to get to know what each candidate personally stands for, and all-candidates meetings would be impossible.

    In a representative democracy, you are voting for the individual. Party platforms don’t tell you if the candidate will be able to think clearly and react appropriately in the many unforeseen circumstances with which they will meet during a term in office. That is what is most important to determine during a campaign, and I think that would be made more difficult under STV.

    Surely there are other forms of preferential balloting that wouldn’t require larger ridings.

  5. May 14, 2009 5:50 pm

    If you believe that Bill Tieleman is in favour of electoral reform, I’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. He might advocate a single constituency AV system. However, it is no more proportional than the current system.

  6. May 14, 2009 8:13 am

    aw nick, i’m really sorry. for the record, i really did my best to inform ppl about STV, even though ultimately i was never entirely sure about it myself. i felt it would likely be preferable to FPTP, but the big ridings and not being able to fully understand how second and third choices would be transferred made me nervous.

    i still think it’s very unfortunate that it didn’t pass, mostly for the signal that this sends about electoral reform and also about citizen democracy experiments like the citizens’ assembly. i’m hopeful that we’ll be able to design a process in the future that engages people more broadly and meaningfully in choosing a new system they will support.

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