Coun. Andrea Reimer says an STV win will thwart mixed-member proportional representation in B.C.

Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer left the Green party in October 2007, in part because of the Greens’ support for the single transferable vote.

"Most of us who were opposed to it either left or are significantly diminished in involvement," Reimer told the Straight in an April 17 phone interview. "It is an extremely crass political decision....They felt it was far more important to get one person elected than it was to get good policies made  by any party that might be in government."

Reimer, who has a keen interest in electoral reform, prefers a mixed-member proportional system, known as MMP, which results in the election of candidates both on a constituency basis and from party lists.

The candidates on the lists would be added to the legislature to ensure that each party had proportional representation. Her preference is a system in which half the MLAs were elected in constituencies, with the other half chosen from the party lists.

“I’m a big supporter of moving to something that allows people’s vote to be accurately reflected proportionally in the number of seats a party has in the legislature,” Reimer said. “STV does not accomplish that. It can in some circumstances, but those circumstances generally don’t exist in the form it has been designed. And it’s certainly not intended to produce those circumstances.”

Under the B.C.-STV proposal that will go to a referendum in the May 12 election, candidates would be elected in 20 large districts, each with between two to seven members.

Voters would rank candidates to ensure that second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and possibly even seventh preferences might be taken into account in determining who is elected.

“No jurisdiction that has had STV has ever moved on to MMP,” Reimer said. “I have had arguments put to me that this is another step in the process, but it’s not. It’s the dead end of electoral systems.”

She added that she also has “serious concerns” about how female and minority candidates would fare under a B.C.-STV system. “Like our at-large system here in Vancouver, STV hugely rewards candidates based on name recognition,” she said. “That comes from either money or existing entrenchment in a power structure. Those people tend not to be women or minority candidates. You could overcome it with some very serious financing reform, but again, that’s not proposed as a part of this.”

Her third major objection to STV is that it sacrifices an enormous amount of local representation to obtain what she described as “incremental gains in proportionality”.

“With MMP, the most you would have given up is doubling the size of your riding as opposed to increasing it by four or five or seven times,” Reimer said. “And you’re guaranteed proportionality whereas with STV, it’s a complete mathematical crapshoot. The experience of people in Ireland and Malta and Australia is that crapshoot hasn’t worked out well for them. The Greens continue to struggle. Their representation in the Australian Senate is nowhere near their proportion of votes, nor is it in Malta or Ireland.”

She added that two major parties have dominated all three jurisdictions for quite a long time “not because they receive huge amounts of support, but because the system favours them”.

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9 Comments

James Gilmour

Apr 17, 2009 at 2:53pm

Andrea Reimer tells only part of the story about MMP - I wonder why? With MMP you would have two very different kinds of MLA - a recipe for conflict, especially where different parties are involved.

The single-member ridings for MMP might well be only twice the size of the present ridings, but what about the vast areas "represented" by the list MLAs? Much better surely to elect all MLAs on the same basis with BC-STV, as representatives of their local ridings, accountable to their local voters.

With BC-STV the gain in proportionality would be massive, not incremental. Andre Reimer should look at the results of the last two STV elections in Ireland and compare them with the results of the last two MMP elections in Scotland. Despite the small average size of Ireland's STV ridings (3 - 5 members), the proportionality of the parties is every bit as good as that in Scotland with its much larger MMP electoral regions (15 - 17 members). And the Greens are doing quite well in Ireland.

Above all, BC-STV would put the power to elect into the hands of the voters and take it away from the party machines. Maybe that's why Andrea Reimer would prefer MMP.

James Gilmour
Edinburgh, Scotland (where we elect representatives by FPTP, MMP and STV)

7 5Rating: +2

Antony Hodgson

Apr 17, 2009 at 5:52pm

Reimer is dead wrong when she claims that the Greens don't get their fair share of the seats under STV. The Australian Greens have 8 of 76 seats (10.5%) on 9% of the vote. In Malta, the Greens got 1.3% of the vote and no seats. In Ireland, the Greens got 3.6% of the seats on 4.7% of the vote. This seems perfectly fair to me.

Also, women can do very well under STV. In Western Australia, women hold 47% of the seats in the Legislative Council (and 41% in the Australian Capital Territory). They hold 36% of the seats in the Senate under STV, but only 27% of the seats in the single member lower house elections. Women in Ireland represent 39% of the Irish European Parliamentary contingent. Contrast this with 22% women here in BC under our dismal First Past the Post system. The top country in the world under FPTP is Nepal at 33%. Canada is well above both the UK (19.5%) and the US (17%) at 22%, though that only earns us the honour of being 52nd in the world (http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm). If we were using STV right now, would we really consider switching to a system known to suppress women's representation to levels below 30%?

"No jurisdiction that has had STV has ever moved on to MMP". Perhaps one reason for that is that voters actually like it. An all-party committee in 2002 concluded that voters would not countenance the reduction in choice that would be implied in changing the voting system.
Antony Hodgson
Director, Fair Voting BC
Supporting the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform
Check stv.ca for information on the May 12th referendum

6 6Rating: 0

thc.1100

Apr 18, 2009 at 2:26am

Reimer wants the least accountability for constituency and list MLA's with MMP.

Constituency elections under FPTP have the problems no proportionality, of wasted votes in a "winner take all" contest with no accountability to voters in "safe" ridings and no real choice with strategic voting.

For list MLA's - they are appointed by the party leaders without a constituency. So no one really voted for them personally. They voted for the "party". So list MLA's are accountable only to the party. This is why party leaders if they want any reform want MMP.

The Citizen Assembly as a random collection of voters didn't have a conflict of interest that political consultants and professional politicians would have had in picking a new voting system. Citizen Assembly actually looked after voter interests only and decided after a year of study - a luxury the average person does not have - to choose STV as the best system for voters, not party leaders.

Now that Reimer's a party insider or on the fast track to be one, she isn't really interested in electoral reform as she purports to be, but would rather keep the status quo by advocating for MMP to keep STV out and keep the power in the hands of party leaders not voters. For shame.

7 5Rating: +2

Michael Bednarski

Apr 18, 2009 at 4:08am

Both STV and MMP are great proportional voting systems that have their advantages. However, in Ontario, the opponents of proportional representation in general and MMP in particular were able to convince the voters in the 2007 Ontario referendum on voting reform that MMP would result in Toronto controlling the lists. Support for MMP was low outside Toronto. If British Columbians were voting on MMP, the opponents of proportional representation would be telling voters that the political parties in Vancouver and Victoria would be controlling the lists for the rest of the province.

A problem with the existing but antiquated First-Past-the-Post voting system is that while it lets constitutents air their concerns to their one local MLA, that MLA has practically no power in the BC legislature as most of that power is concentrated in the premier's office.

5 5Rating: 0

Antony Hodgson

Apr 18, 2009 at 7:18am

In reference to the all-party committee mentioned above, I meant the 2002 All-Party Constitutional Review Committee in Ireland, which concluded, among other things, that STV there has "manifest and well-recognized virtues, including proportionality, responsiveness to public choice, and continuity, which together have garnered for it substantial and enduring popular support." (http://www.constitution.ie/reports/7th-Report-Parliament.pdf, page 27). Over 75% of the politicians there ranked STV as their #1 choice for an electoral system (about 20% wanted either MMP or a party list system, and only 1% wanted to switch to First Past the Post).

Speaking of the proposed Mixed Member Proportional option they considered, the committee had the following to say: "significant elements of power and choice are removed from the voters in constituencies, and transferred to party leaders and managers, whose determination of the ordering of lists would normally be crucial. ... it seems highly unlikely that a change of this nature, which would be seen as advantaging parties and disadvantaging the individual voter, would be received well by the public" (p28).

The committee concludes that "no change [to STV] is necessary or desirable", arguing that "Finally, and decisively, there is no evidence of serious or widespread public discontent with the existing system: on the contrary, there is in our view a strong and enduring attachment to it. The fundamental and insurmountable argument against change is that the current Irish electoral system provides the greatest degree of voter choice of any available option. A switch to any other system would reduce the power of the individual voter" (p29).
Antony Hodgson
Director, Fair Voting BC
Supporting the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform
Check stv.ca for information on the May 12th referendum

9 9Rating: 0

Wilf Day

Apr 18, 2009 at 9:24am

Andrea Reimer is unique: a genuine MMP fan who thinks STV is worse than winner-take-all. She's the only one in Canada that I know of.

In Ontario we have lots of MMP fans. We all think STV is the best choice for BC provincially.

BC is so lucky to have only 50,000 people per MLA. Federally, a good MMP model would turn the 21 MPs in the Lower Mainland into 14 local MPs and 7 regional-open-list top-up MPs. Each local riding would have 184,000 people. But with BC-STV that same community can have four MLAs. That's what makes BC-STV possible. In Ontario, where our provincial ridings are the size of federal ridings, we didn't have that luxury.

Will more voter choice be bad for women? That fear held Sweden to a closed-list system for years. Then they finally gave in to the demand for voter choice -- and open lists resulted in MORE women winning. Andrea Reimer should trust BC voters more. Anyway, the alternative to BC-STV was the MMP model the BC Citizens' Assembly designed, a regional open-list model, which reformers now know is the only MMP model that has any hope of flying. It rewards name recognition too. And that will be an even bigger problem in my federal model with the whole Lower Mainland being one district, rather than ten districts in BC-STV.

Both New Zealand and Scotland use STV municipally and MMP nationally. Could BC use STV provincially and MMP nationally? They aren't really so different. The first step is to vote for BC-STV next month.

Wilf Day

9 7Rating: +2

Korky Day

Apr 19, 2009 at 4:17pm

2009 April 18
Dear editor, Andrea Reimer, etc.,
The main fault with Andrea Reimer's reasoning is that it overlooks the fact that we have a big century-old logjam in electoral reform across Canada and the USA. If the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation is ignored, as Reimer suggests, the horrible system we have now (single district plurality) could easily continue for more generations.
However, if BC-STV is tried here, even if the result is imperfect, it will break that logjam and create a log flow of various experiments throughout the continent. Let different systems be tried.
I preferred MMP to STV, too, but I'd rather try something good now than close the debate for many years. The people who benefit from the status quo don't want to give us more chances. That's why they are making us get 60%, even though the current system was never instituted with the approval of a single voter. This is our last chance for decades. Vote yes on May 12!

Korky Day
former chair of Vancouver Greens
korkyday at-sign yahoo.com

Korky Day

4 4Rating: 0

Reader via e-mail

Apr 21, 2009 at 10:15am

Andrea Reimer’s reported objections to the BC-Single Transferable Vote (BC-STV) system for electing our MLAs are not well formed. She clearly prefers a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system. If politicians are forced into a proportional system this is what they prefer because of the power it gives them. There are good reasons why the members of the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform did not choose MMP. Initially the members were inclined towards MMP but after extensive deliberation, and realization of the advantages of BC-STV, they highly recommended the latter.

MMP would not have been supported by those from the sparsely populated regions of BC. For example, the Peace River region which now has two MLAs would be reduced to one MLA under MMP. This loss of local representation would have been unacceptable. With BC-STV the Peace River region will still have two MLAs.

Reimer prefers to have half the MLAs chosen from lists put forward by the parties. This would increase the power of the party leadership - exactly the opposite of what BC citizens told the members of the Assembly they wanted.

Reimer seems to think that if we get STV there can be no further change. It is the present First-Past-the-Post that really suffers from this syndrome. Politicians are the ones who have the power to change the system, and they are reluctant to change from a system that got them elected. This is why most of our present MLAs are not in favour of BC-STV. The Citizens’ Assembly recommended that it be reviewed after three elections and that citizens should be involved in the review. In Ireland, change fom STV could have occurred when the dominant party tried twice to replace STV with FPTP, and would have done so had the electorate said no in two referendums.

Reimer’s comments on the election of women are also misguided. BC-STV will give more opportunity for women to be elected than MMP. Our present FPTP has a well established structural barrier to the election of women - this is the male who has “owned” the riding and is seen as most electable and is therefore nominated. With MMP this structural barrier will remain for half of the ridings; for the other half there is the possibility of parties zippering their lists with alternating men and women; the younger women members of the Citizens’ Assembly found this reverse discrimination objectionable. With BC-STV a major party can be expected to nominate men and women in equal numbers, say two men and two women in a 4 or 5 member riding. It is then up to the voters to decide. Experience has shown that electable women get elected just as easily as men.

The quote that STV provides “incremental gains in proportionality” is presumably a misquote. It is absolutely wrong. STV is a proportional system and would correct the serious errors of First-past-the-Post. To see the comparison go to <a href="http://www.bc-stv.ca/" target="_blank">http://www.bc-stv.ca/</a> and look at the fact sheet on proportionality. MMP would provide an incremental gain in proportionality over BC-STV for major parties and significantly better for fringe parties; this is not worth the cost in loss of local representation, voter choice and voter power. The countries that use STV get the legislature that the people vote for unlike any of us who use FPTP.

This referendum is all about fairness and power; fairness for both voters and parties and a better balance of power between voters and parties. BC-STV will give us a democracy that works better.

David Huntley
Fair Voting Burnaby/New Westminster

7 8Rating: -1

Anthony1

Aug 31, 2012 at 1:26pm

Yes, you can have smaller districts with MMP, but at the cost of taking away direct voter control over the individuals they vote for. At the very best, you could democratize the lists in primaries, but that still doesn't help those with more nuanced views that the majority (and I believe that most proposed MMP systems use closed lists as well). The thing about STV is that it is not only proportional to party, it is proportional to individual preference. It gives proportionality without forcing people to vote party line. And even if someone does choose to vote party line, it gives them the ability to order the individuals in the party to their choosing, instead of forcing every member of the party to support a predefined list in a take it or leave it fashion.

I really don't think that, given the anti-political party sentiment present in much of Canada, any system that so directly involves the parties in the process could ever be successful, even if the system did try to make up for it by electing half of the seats by a less partisan method. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes I think the STV campaign in BC made was to concentrate on STV's ability to produce partisan proportionality. A large number of the people I heard coming out against it made an argument along the lines of "I don't really care about the parties, it'd be best if we just got them out of the system, the solution isn't to simply represent the proportionally", apparently unaware of the fact that STV was a non-partisan system of proportional representation, and would actually give independents and nonpartisans a much greater ability to win.

As for your comments about STV's lack of proportionality, I would have to disagree. Although the threshold for each individual district seems high (a five member district, for instance, would have a threshold of ~20%), this is mitigated somewhat on a province-wide level by the fact that there are many districts. Political support isn't evenly distributed over geography, of course, and as long as there isn't explicit gerrymandering, the random variations tend to allow political parties to make up for being underrepresented in some districts. In fact, from a national perspective, the effective threshold in Ireland seems to ~5% (some parties with even less support actually have fairly good representation), and the average district size there is only a little more than 3 members.

Of course, in single-member districts the threshold is theoretically 50%, but we almost never see one party winning all of the seats, even though such a threshold would suggest that this should happen in ever election. The same effect is in play there, making it more representative than it would seem on its face. And, of course, the effect is stronger with STV, because the threshold is so much lower. Of course, some really obscure parties that win 1% of the vote or so are unlikely to get elected, but most proportional systems put thresholds of 5% anyway, because it's recognized that an overfragmented parliament is bad for the nation.

6 7Rating: -1