By David Schreck
I’m voting against the proposed single-transferable-vote system, not for first-past-the-post—and for good reason.
Supporters of BC-STV say voting is as simple as 1, 2, 3, but the way votes are counted is anything but simple!
While there would be two to seven MLAs elected in each of 20 ridings—versus 85 ridings under our current system—you still only get one vote, hence the word single as the first word in STV.
The numbers are used differently for each voter in the very complicated counting rules. It is a mistake to think of the rankings as greater choice; where STV is used, many voters stop numbering after they finish with candidates from their preferred party.
In B.C.’s 2005 election, 25 political parties fielded candidates, compared to 14 parties in Ireland. British Columbians had more choice without STV.
With single-member constituencies you know who your MLA is, and if you want to lobby or get help from an MLA from another party in another constituency, nothing prevents that. The one-to-one accountability of our current system would be lost with STV.
Most MLAs currently live in or near their constituency. With large multiple-MLA constituencies, all of those elected could come from one community to the disadvantage of those who have historically had local representation. It is common in Vancouver for voters to complain that most councilors come from the West Side; this could also be a problem with STV.
In Ireland, the central parties limit how many candidates are allowed to run in each electoral area, while in Malta and Tasmania parties run more candidates than there are positions to fill.
No one knows what would happen in B.C. Many of the claims that are made about STV cannot be demonstrated and frequently depend on assumptions of how parties and voters would behave, but they behave differently in Ireland, Malta, and Tasmania. There is no place you can go and see how STV would work if it were adopted for B.C.
When New Zealand changed its electoral system from first past the post to mixed-member proportional representation, it held two referendums. The first in 1992 was nonbinding and asked whether FPTP should be replaced and, if so, which of four systems people favoured; MMP received 70 percent support, STV only 17 percent.
Since a majority wanted change, a second binding referendum was held in 1993 between MMP and FPTP. That resulted in the adoption of MMP in New Zealand.
British Columbians won’t be given the opportunity to vote on MMP, and STV is nothing like it.
With FPTP the candidate with the most votes wins; with MMP some MLAs are elected that way but others are elected from a party list, so parties with at least five percent of the popular vote gain representation in parliament.
With STV, candidates win with a percentage that is much higher than the five percent commonly used with MMP—12.5 percent to 33.3 percent depending on the number of MLAs to be elected in each area. It is doubtful whether STV would benefit any small party. When party support from B.C.’s 2005 election is totaled for the proposed 20 electoral areas, no third party comes close to getting even 12.5 percent of the popular vote in any region.
It is true that governments are formed in our current system with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, but that doesn’t mean that those who didn’t vote for the government are of one mind and willing to form a coalition to replace it.
STV doesn’t prevent a party from winning over 50 percent of the seats even though it has less than 50 percent of the vote. That happened four times in Malta, causing a constitutional crisis in 1981. Malta now adds seats when necessary to correct that outcome, as it had to do in 2008. If BC-STV results in a party forming government with more seats than its percentage of the vote, it does not contain a provision for a fix like Malta adopted.
No one would pretend that our political system is without faults, but it would be an enormous mistake to attribute those faults to how we elect our MLAs. In Ireland, Malta, and Tasmania you can find the same disappointments with politics that you see here.
David Schreck is the secretary-treasurer of the No BC-STV Campaign Society.