By Bruce Strachan
The single transferable vote is not representative, it is not democratic, it is not well thought out, and it is not necessary.
The STV proposal reminds me of the old axiom in government: if it ain’t broken, fix it until it is.
STV is offering up political alchemy by flogging the giddy promise of spinning skimpy ballot support into legislative seats.
The harsh reality is that STV is a complicated arithmetic attempt at vote-count manipulation, all aided and abetted by an ungainly redraw of the current British Columbia electoral-district map.
Let’s begin with the map, the first ingredient in the complex cocktail of STV.
STV reduces the electoral district count from 85 to 20. Those 20 massive districts would elect from two to seven members.
Why so big? It’s the only way STV will work. Think of the bell curve, the figurative representation of a normal distribution. In the STV proposal, if you don’t fit within that bell—a problem facing political also-rans—then squash the bell from the top, add members, and transfer the normal distribution of ballots to the margins.
That’s the STV answer to measuring electoral majorities and pluralities: if you can’t get the results you want, change the way you count.
Mathematically, STV is interesting. But from the perspective of providing fair representation in a province as diverse as British Columbians, it’s a non-starter.
STV takes the unique characteristics and distinctively regional interests of 85 individual constituencies, throws them into a mixer and churns out 20 ungainly electoral blobs.
By way of a quick snapshot, I live in Prince George and have spent 18 years in elected office. I was a school trustee and board chair, a regional district director, as well as a three-term MLA and cabinet minister. In all positions, I represented a significant urban population as well as large but sparsely populated rural area.
There are many of us in B.C. who have represented rural voters, and collectively we can tell you that although the votes are in the city, the real political work is in the far-flung reaches of the constituency. It is the rural areas that truly need the ear of their MLA and a voice in Victoria.
Under STV, rural residents would suffer the short end of representation. MLA attention in the new super-ridings would be population-centric.
Let me pose this question to Georgia Straight readers: Would you want one huge at-large city council elected from the 22 municipalities that make up Metro Vancouver? With all council members elected using the STV ballot counting system? I don’t think so.
But that’s what STV proponents are attempting to foist on the province.
Supporters of STV make the case that the system would better reflect the views of voters.
Well, so does the current first-past-the-post system.
Just take a quick trip down Canada’s political memory lane. In 1984, Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives won the largest parliamentary majority in Canadian political history.
By 1993, the once-mighty PC party was reduced to two seats.
Provincially, the Social Credit Party won a record 47 seats in 1986, suffered a massive defeat in 1991 and went on to political oblivion. The provincial NDP was reduced to two seats in 2001 yet rebounded to 33 seats four year later. The NDP could form government this May.
Our current voting system serves up dramatic political shifts with ease. By contrast, in Ireland—where STV has been in place for over 80 years—one party, Fianna Fáil, has formed the government for the majority of that time.
Finally, be careful of what you wish for. STV proponents say their system would produce a wonderful multi-party rainbow of political parties in the legislative assembly. It just might, but is that necessarily good? I don’t think so.
I sat as a Social Credit backbencher, deputy Speaker, and then cabinet minister in a two-party legislature. It was raucous, opinionated, and nasty, but it was productive.
There is nothing that focuses the mind of government as much as facing a strong and determined opposition, particularly an opposition with the capacity to defeat you in the next election.
STV promises seats for Greens, Communists, the Blind Mice, Little Bo Peep, and every political movement with enough life to fog a mirror. Wonderful, but if elected, what could this political amalgam accomplish? Very little, I would suggest.
Our current first-past-the-post system is robust, reliable, and understandable. And, I can tell you from my political scars, it has never failed to accurately reflect the mood of the electorate.
Before you vote on May 12, ask yourself, if STV is the answer, what was the question?
Bruce Strachan is a director of the No BC-STV Campaign Society and a former Social Credit cabinet minister.
Shoni Field and David Wills: Why the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform chose STV
David Schreck: BC-STV is simply no better than our current electoral system
Damian Kettlewell: Single transferable vote would break down political barriers in B.C.