Shoni Field: B.C.'s STV referendum is about voters

By Shoni Field

If a referendum on electoral systems sounds a little dry to you, think about it this way: On May 12, we are being asked to decide what type of voters we want to be.

It’s a choice between being strong voters who can hold governments accountable or being content with politics as usual with little room for input.

As voters, we have a lot of questions of our current system.

If we, the voters, give a party 40 percent of our votes, how come first past the post gives them 60 percent of the seats?

How come 50 percent to 60 percent of us don’t get an MLA we voted for? Isn’t democracy supposed to work for the majority?

And what happens when we gamble on the right candidate and get lucky enough to elect somebody?

Our MLA will help us with an ICBC complaint or grant request, but on the important issues such as the carbon tax, fish farms, taxation, et cetera, MLAs do as they are told. Our vote might have counted, but we don’t have a voice—this is wrong.

Governments don’t have to work in the best interests of the majority—they only need about 40 percent to win a “majority” government. And even that minority isn’t always well represented.

We often scratch our heads as the party we vote for does something completely at odds with what they stand for. Realizing that they are targeting a small percentage of swing voters that they need next time round doesn’t make us feel well represented.

If our governments don’t represent us, if our representatives can’t work for us, then how can we expect good government?

We can’t. And that is why we need BC-STV.

In the 2005 referendum, nearly 58 percent of British Columbians chose BC-STV. This clear majority fell just short of the unprecedented 60 percent threshold.

British Columbians of every political stripe are coming together for BC-STV because we believe that we can’t have good government unless we have an electoral system that gives us what we voted for.

With BC-STV, voters will have viable alternatives: If an MLA doesn’t represent their community well, voters can choose another candidate, without even having to switch parties. The smart MLAs will serve their constituents well.

And, in choosing one candidate over another, voters are sending an important message to political parties about what is important to them. The smart parties will pay attention.

BC-STV will give 80 percent to 90 percent of us an MLA we voted for. An MLA with a strong incentive to serve us.

MLAs will have some leverage to champion the issues that matter to their constituents.

Knowing that popular independents that champion local issues can get elected, MLAs can push back against excessive party discipline on critical local issues.

We will get the governments we voted for. And, with that direct and accurate link between our ballot and government, we can hold them accountable to the majority.

Single transferable vote is a popular, well-tested system, which the citizens of Ireland, Australia, Scotland, and New Zealand have found easy to use.

It was recommended for B.C. not by politicians but by our fellow citizens. The Citizens’ Assembly was 160 randomly chosen voters who spent 11 months studying electoral systems and talking to British Columbians. The assembly researched STV exhaustively before recommending it—every criticism and benefit was examined for accuracy and merit. They had no partisan interests; they were guided simply by what would work best for their fellow citizens.

BC-STV will deliver fair results for voters. But more importantly, it will give voters real power for the first time in our province’s history—the power to hold our governments accountable. Politicians hate it; voters like it. On May 12, power up your vote! Support BC-STV.

Shoni Field is a spokesperson for British Columbians for BC-STV, and a former member of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.


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Wilf Day

Apr 20, 2009 at 8:38pm

Another point to keep in mind is that, on the positive side, many people do like the present government. If enough voters feel that way, BC-STV will re-elect it. In the last 52 years, Ireland has elected three one-party majority governments. It's up to the voters. But even then, they had a choice of which government candidate to vote for.

Wilf Day

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