By David Schreck
No STV is a broad coalition of people who came together because we believe the proposed single transferable vote electoral system would be a disaster for British Columbia. Our supporters include Greens, New Democrats, B.C. Liberals, former Social Credit members, and non-aligned voters.
Some No STV members support a mixed member proportional representation electoral system or some other form of proportional representation; others support our current “first past the post” (FPTP) system. But we all agree that the only way to stop BC-STV in the May 12 referendum is to vote to keep our current electoral system, and then consider other alternatives in a public process afterwards. Remember: if STV passes, it is supposed to stay in place for a minimum of three elections—that would be until 2025!
That said, our current first past the post system has several advantages. It is easy to understand—the candidate who gets the most votes in a single member riding wins and the party that wins the most ridings forms the government.
Most voters believe that it is fair. It is the most used system in the world when measured by the number of voters that use it in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and India, for example.
STV supporters are fond of pointing to two abnormal B.C. elections. In 1996, the NDP formed government by winning 39 seats with 41.8 percent of the popular vote compared to 33 seats for the Liberals who had 39.5 percent of the vote. Despite claims that our current system works to the disadvantage of small parties, the Reform Party won two seats and the Progressive Democratic Alliance won one seat in 1996. What BC-STV proponents don’t like to talk about is that Malta, one of just two countries who use STV as their national electoral system, has had the same kind of election outcome four times, most recently in its last election in 2008.
In 1981, Malta first elected a government with more seats than the party that got the highest overall popular vote. It then amended its constitution so as to add seats to fix the outcome if it happened again, as it did. There is nothing in BC-STV to correct the outcome if the seats don’t balance with the popular vote.
STV supporters are also fond of pointing to the 2001 election when the NDP was reduced to two seats. The Liberals won 57.6 percent of the popular vote; the NDP won 21.6 percent and the Greens won 12.4 percent. Even if B.C. had strict proportionality so parties would get the same number of seats as their popular vote, the Liberals still would have enjoyed a strong majority and been able to pass quickly every one of their pieces of legislation.
It is important to note that the voters chose to return B.C. to its customary balance between the parties at the next election in 2005. It is also important to note that balance between the parties with a strong government and a strong opposition has been the norm in British Columbia.
In Malta with STV, since 1966 only the two major parties have succeeded in electing members to its parliament. In British Columbia with FPTP small parties succeeded in electing members to our parliament throughout our history, including in 1996, 1991, 1975, 1972, and 1969. Many believe that with our current system independent Vicki Huntington will probably be elected in Delta South in this election, but Malta under STV hasn’t seen an independent elected since the 1950s.
No one would pretend that our political system is perfect, but it is far better than many.
Changing to a complex system that is used by less than one tenth of one percent of the world’s population (Ireland, Malta, and the Australian state of Tasmania) could make politics worse, not better.
There is a reason supporters of BC-STV like to talk about theoretical examples rather than about politics in Ireland where parties put in the fix by running fewer candidates than there are positions to fill and by over-ruling local nomination meetings on the selection of candidates.
Political parties are weaker in British Columbia than they are in Ireland, where terms like “ward bosses” are used to describe the stranglehold party machines maintain over Irish counties. It would be very sad if British Columbians voted for BC-STV only to learn the hard way that it is far worse than our current system. Just as we tell folks to look before they dive into shallow waters, we should take a good look at BC-STV before adopting what is little understood.
David Schreck is the secretary-treasurer of the No BC-STV Campaign Society.