David Schreck: Adopting STV could make B.C. politics worse

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      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.




      Apr 16, 2009 at 8:53pm

      1) His coalition does not include any BC Greens. The BC Green unanimously supported BC-STV at their last two AGMS. 0 Objections. His coalition more likely contains one person who once ran with the greens 8 years ago.

      2) He is right that STV would be a disaster for BC. Unfortunately it only correspond to be a disaster for party hacks like Schreck.

      We've lived through a government with no opposition, we lived through federal minority governments, and we have lived through an election where the wrong side won. The only disaster in politics is when politicians get arrogant and think that because they won more seats, they can do whatever they want.

      What a load of crock his argument is. First past the post is used by a billion people in India so it must be fair.. so does that mean communism is a close second? Guess what, FPTP is also proudly used in Lebanon, Zimbamwe, and Pakistan. Popular, yeah, because it can deliver majority governments to nuts.

      He also claims the reform party and PDA won seats. The reform party was a bunch of sitting socred who defected and two of 6 won re-election. The PDA was gordon wilson, who quit the liberals, started PDA, and then joined the NDP? Those who won, all won with 30% of the support because of massive vote splitting in 1996. What a joke, 5 years in 50 we had some independent voices.

      Malta is actually the fairest country in the world as far as elections. Only two parties have won, but over the last 50 years those two parties have always had over 98% of the votes. It is also the size of surrey.

      Ireland uses STV. Scotland just switched all of its local elections over to STV and the public is happy. Australia has used STV is their states for years. Alberta and Manitoba even used STV (1922-1950s) until the government moved to get rid of competition.

      The truth is that places that used STV do not have electoral reform movements to change it. They don't have a desire to change it. They may get bad politicians sometime, any system does, but no one in Ireland, Malta, or Australia is clamouring to more to first past the post.

      Not one. Schreck even tried asking people on an irish blog site what they thought and not one of them thought that they wanted first past the post.

      Mark Crowley

      Apr 16, 2009 at 10:32pm

      I only need to respond to the first third of Mr. Schreck's article. First of all, I'm sure No-STV has a fair number of members but I doubt the membership is very broad: there will hardly any young people, no Greens, and few moderates who are not tightly committed to one of the two to big parties.

      But Mr. Schreck's main argument is that some other PR system would be better so we should keep what we have and wait for the train to come around again. He seems like a pragmatic kind of guy, so answer this, how long do you think that will take to happen? There will have been two back to back defeats for electoral reform in BC, a recent one (for your favourite, MMP) in Ontario defeated as well as a defent a few years ago in PEI.

      Isn't it more likely, Mr. Schreck, that the media, politicians and much of the public will say "Well, I guess that's it then, lets not think about it for a few decades." Just like Consitutional reform in Ottawa, fail a few times in a row and it becomes untouchable. So if you are going to have to wait 10 or 20 years *anyways* and you admit that the plan with BC-STV is to try it for three elections (lets see, 4+4+4=12) plus a few years to have a referendum again and afew to implement. Oh my, it might be 20 years again! Maybe less.

      And this would be a public discussion about electoral reform carried out under a PR system with all voices being heard proportionally across the province. At least everyone would be at the table. Do you see how silly this argument is, if you just think about, for just a minute?

      The No-STV campaign doesn't want you thinking about anything. Not about how bad FPTP is. Not about how democracy should really work. Not about how voting actually works. They say its complicated because they think that will scare people, that British Columbians don't want to think a little. They already do a lot of thinking about how to vote in our current system where most votes are wasted, how do you vote to maximize your chance of being heard? We can handle it and with BC-STV voting will actually become child's play. No more strategic voting, its easy as 1,2,3, etc.

      Niilo John Van Steinburg

      Apr 16, 2009 at 10:56pm

      David Schreck brings up the 1996 and 2001 elections as anomalies, saying the Yes side likes to lean on these. The Yes doesn't need these results to show how wrong first-past-the-post is, however. Since the Liberal-PC coalition of the late 1940's, there has only once been a majority government with a majority of the popular vote - and that was the 2001 election. So, it's not these really skewed results that we need worry about the most with FPTP - it's the regularly skewed results that we get with every other election.

      And what's this "strong opposition" he mentions? Our current two-party system allows the right and left to take turns swinging provincial policy in their preferred directions whenever they happen to get their "majority". No matter how strong the opposition is, the ruling party can do what they wish.

      "but it is far better than many" - I'm not sure about 'many'. I can only think of a few systems that are worse than FPTP. Dictatorship, despotism, fascism, ... First-past-the-post was not designed for democracy. It's an ancient system that the people in power decided to use when democracy was forced on them - a system that allowed them to retain much of their power.

      We no longer have two old, rich, white dudes competing with each other for top office. We have a wonderful diversity of people, cultures, and ideologies that want their voices heard at and beyond each election. They want something better than first-past-the-post. And BC-STV will get them there.

      ezekiel bones

      Apr 17, 2009 at 12:17am

      you know different isn't always better, right?

      I'm not a big fan of MMPR or FPTP at all... but STV is the worst of the lot. I'm sorry but is one person who is posting here in favour of STV from outside of the lower mainland? Even one? I doubt it, because it would kill rural BC. I know it is very fashionable to hate rural BC, but this whole STV debate ignores the horrific effect that STV would have on rural BC. The constituencies are already too large.

      STV is also likely to reduce representation of women, minorities, and it is very likely to entrench parties, and to further disadvantage independent candidates.

      Also, it is impossible to scrutinize, and will lead to ballots with more than 30 names on them, which will just entrench the current brainless thematic politics which has already almost taken over completely, since the only hope a candidate will have of getting elected is the little party letters beside their name.


      Apr 17, 2009 at 4:34pm

      FPTP may be easy to use but very hard to understand the results.

      With FPTP - there is the 40/60/100 rule - except for the "anomolies" - 40% of the votes gives you 60% of the seats for 100% control how fair is that? Federally, Bloc gets 49 seats when proportionally they should have 28 seats, how would our governance be better with that change in dynamic?

      FPTP is easier to use - with unfair disproportionate results. STV, more sophisticated, with fair proportionate results.

      Niilo John Van Steinburg

      Apr 17, 2009 at 5:04pm

      I have to wonder at the extreme differences between opponents and proponents of BC-STV, and their tactics. The Yes campaign educates people using facts and backing up their statements. The No side typically makes ambiguous claims that are meant to scare people into rejecting the proposed voting system. And they can do nothing other than keep recycling these scare-tactics. For example, "ezekial bones"s post, which I'll address.

      > I doubt it, because it would kill rural BC.

      How would it "kill" rural areas? That's a strong statement to make without justification. Yes, some ridings will be quite large but, at the largest, they are comparable to Federal ridings for the same areas. Those Federal ridings seem to fair well (as well as they can with FPTP), yet BC-STV would have two or more MLA's per riding. And over 80% of those constituents will have a representative that they voted for, as opposed to the less than 50% with the current system, in *any* riding.

      Are you speaking for rural voters, by the way? You do know that over 50% of them voted to approve BC-STV last time around, right?

      > STV is also likely to reduce representation of women, minorities

      This statement is patently false. FPTP is one of the worst systems for equal representation, and BC-STV has been shown to increase such representation. Australia has shown a huge increase in women being elected under STV.

      > it is very likely to entrench parties,

      They are already entrenched. BC-STV will allow voters to forget about vote-swapping and strategic voting. This eliminates the strangle-hold that parties currently enjoy with FPTP. And that is probably the main reason the major parties will not support BC-STV.

      > and to further disadvantage independent candidates

      How can you get worse than zero? The last independent candidate elected in BC was in 1949. Good record.

      For reasons given above, independents will have a better chance under BC-STV.

      > Also, it is impossible to scrutinize, and will lead
      > to ballots with more than 30 names on them

      There is a prominent professor in Victoria who's speciality is electoral reform. He feels that we won't see a huge surge of candidates with STV. I agree, and here is why. The largest riding, by seats, will be the Victoria riding with 7 seats. The strongest party, the NDP, won't run a full 7 candidates - they know it wouldn't be worth it.Certainly the Liberals wouldn't run 7 candidates. So, with the two largest parties, we have about 9 candidates (5 and 4). The Greens might run 2 or 3 (if they're feeling luck). With other smaller parties and a few independents thrown in, we creep up to maybe 18-20 candidates (and this is all high estimating). That's still a lot more than what we're used to, but not anywhere near the 30+ that the No campaign is keen to scare us with.

      Is a 20-candidate ballet a lot to take in? Well, it's obviously more effort than 4-6 candidates. However, there are two reasons why the larger number is acceptable. One, it's a small price to pay for proportional representation. Two, and most valid, the majority of voters cast their votes for parties, not individuals. The typical NDP supporter will likely rank the slate of NDP candidates; Liberal supporters the same for the Liberal candidates. That's the beauty of STV - for those who value parties, they can still vote in a partisan/loyal manner.

      As someone who doesn't identify with any one party, and hence have a "tougher" job when voting, I welcome the opportunity to choose the best candidates from a larger group of politicians. The current system gives us very little in the way of choice.

      So, keep on recycling, No Side. I guess that's all you can do.

      Antony Hodgson

      Apr 18, 2009 at 7:41am

      I hardly know where to begin here.

      If we're talking about Malta, how come Schreck doesn't say that it has the highest voter turnout in the world for countries without compulsory voting - typically, 93-96% of voters come out.

      He also doesn't tell you that Malta is as highly polarized a society as you're likely to find - there are two main factions there representing the upper/middle classes and the Catholic church on one hand and the working class on the other. While BC is polarized, Malta is hyper-polarized - third parties and independents typically attract less than 2% of the vote - nowhere near enough to win a seat with STV. What Schreck won't acknowledge, though he's smart enough to know it, is that the 1996 election result (ie, one party winning a majority government on 39% of the vote while another forms opposition with 42% of the vote) couldn't possibly happen in BC under BC-STV. Why not? Because STV delivers accurate electoral results. In a replay of 1996, the NDP might possibly have won 42% of the seats, but not a majority. The reason Malta has had issues with this small variation between popular vote and seats won is that both parties typically win 48-49% of the vote each, so a majority government hangs in the balance each time. BC has a much stronger presence of third party and independent candidates and so would never find itself in a similar situation. Instead, we'd likely find ourselves moving towards a stable situation in which we have 3 or maybe 4 parties reliably winning seats.

      Re: independents, Schreck should (but won't) tell you that Ireland routinely elects independents - over 25 in the last three elections alone. Malta doesn't because voters there are highly polarized. How is it reasonable to suggest that the First Past the Post voting system, which requires candidates to win more votes than anyone else in an electoral district to be elected, could possibly help independents or smaller parties in a setting like Malta where anyone other than members of the two main parties doesn't win more than 1.5% of the vote, even when a voter can still have their vote count if they show support for such a candidate? This just makes no sense.

      Finally, nomination meetings under STV will actually provide an opportunity for parties to make real progress on gender and equity goals. In a strategic manner, parties can ensure that their slates are gender balanced and will offer a diversity in professional background, interest and expertise in issues, age, ethnicity and other factors that would attract a range of voters. You can't do that with our current one-size-fits-all 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

      ezekiel bones

      Apr 18, 2009 at 10:00am

      Personal attacks and unsubstantiated claims are the best you can come up with? I want to see stats on this supposed increase in women's representation in Australia, stats that directly link it to STV versus other factors. An abstract is useless. I can't see methodology or actual percentages from that.

      How about aborigines? I'm very sceptical about claims that STV increases representation for minorities. Show me some hard proof.

      I draw my conclusions from evidence of cities that do not have ward systems. Note that with at large voting south asian candidates in Vancouver, even VERY STRONG south asian candidates, almost never get elected. Why would STV, which is very much like civic voting without wards with the addition of ranking and competition within slates, be any different?

      Also it is disingenuous to say "and over 80% of those constituents will have a representative that they voted for" when in this system you would be voting for up to 7 people, so yeah, your chances that of ONE them getting elected is higher, but that doesn't prove anything about the system being more representative.

      I also dispute the idea that having competing MLAs would improve representation in any way. It will just result in duplication of services and unless constituency budgets are boosted, it will mean in rural areas there will be fewer communities with offices, as the small communities are ignored while politicians chase after vote rich areas.

      Also, comparing provincial ridings with federal ridings is disingenuous. Federal issues are much less "home" based. Federal politicians are not responsible for roads, healthcare and schools -- things that have STRONG regional components. As a rule the federal government is simply less community focused.

      Also I'm guessing the person who says the federal ridings work fine lives in the lower mainland and has absolutely no idea.

      Of course, they can point to people who had no idea what they are voting for voting 50 percent "in favour" of something as proof, but I interpret the almost 50 percent to be an indication that people had no idea what the referendum was about.


      Apr 18, 2009 at 11:51am

      Rural representation will be enhanced because STV is a regional representation system which will increase the ability of individual MLAs from rural communities to voice their concerns and raise local issues

      The current FPTP system under the current party system only permits rural MLAs to raise their issues in caucus, and real issues get lost in partisan hackling.

      If you look at BC currently, we have 3 ridings in the north central and all the MLAs are from Prince George. Because of the silliness of single member pluralities the current system will usually lump rural areas in with urban areas without giving rural communities any realistic possibility of electing an MLA.

      If we look at a district like North Central under STV, there is no way that Prince George could take all 3 seats under STV. To win 3 of 3 seats, 75% of voters must support those candidates. Each candidate will need the support of 29000 voters (divided by turnout), so Prince George could get 2 of three representatives, but one of the representatives is nearly certain to be a rural advocate

      With First Past The Post, MLAs are almost always from urban centers as FPTP lumps rural communities in with urban towns. (Other wise we would get donut shaped SMP districts.)

      STV will also helps rural BC by providing a diversity of representation. This means a place like peace river may end up electing two MLAs with different backgrounds and experience. This means a larger number of economic sectors will get representation.

      The large riding myth is also nonsense.

      With STV, the North East Peace may cover 200,000 square kilometers. However, the two MLAs currently live 55 minutes apart. 80% of the residents of both SMP districts live with 75km of each other. (Fort St John, Chetwyn, Dawson Creek.)

      Wilf Day

      Apr 19, 2009 at 7:28pm

      David Schreck is a maverick among New Democrats. Both the federal party and the BC party voted in convention to support proportional representation, but he dissented.

      He claims STV will make parties stronger. Consider the NDP candidate from the Fraser-Nicola portion of Cariboo-Thompson. He or she will want to appeal for the second preferences of local Liberal voters, to make sure their community has an MLA. That's what happens all the time in Ireland, causing a huge cross-party transfer. It also makes politics a lot more civilized when you want support from your opponents' supporters.

      Sure, Irish parties try to keep a lid on all this by running as few candidates as they can get away with, to try to reduce the competition between their own candidates. But it's a losing battle. The fact is, when voters have a choice between candidates of their own party, they have more power than today when their party's sole candidate is their only choice. That includes power to vote for more women, which 90% of Canadians say they would do if given the choice.

      Wilf Day