By Damian Kettlewell
On May 12, British Columbians have an amazing opportunity to open up our political system to independents and smaller parties, reduce the concentration of power within the premier’s office, and give voters real accountability over politicians. We can do this by voting to adopt a popular electoral system known as the single transferable vote, as recommended by the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly.
Our current political system is broken. It forces people to vote strategically and results in systematic discrimination against minorities, women, and younger voters, and promotes class warfare by polarizing government. This current system, known as first-past-the-post or winner takes all, makes it very hard for politicians to cooperate and results in nearly half of voters wasting their vote. The only major countries that still use this system are Canada, the United States, India, and Britain. Most other countries have already switched their voting system to some form of proportional representation, such as BC-STV.
Four years ago, the historic B.C. Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, composed of 160 voters chosen randomly from across the province, was formed. After a year of extensive deliberation and numerous public forums, this group nearly unanimously recommended B.C. move to a version of proportional representation known as the single transferable vote. In the initial public referendum back in 2005, 58 percent of British Columbians voted in favour of this change, but the government rejected the will of the voters and insisted that any change to the electoral system must receive 60 percent of the votes.
The single transferable vote is currently is used in Ireland, Australia, Malta, and local elections in Scotland. It was also used in Alberta and Manitoba from the 1920s to 1950s, before the government removed it to reduce political competition. Everywhere it has been used, it has delivered fair results and has resulted in higher voter turnout rates. In Australia, where it is used in the state of Tasmania, the STV system has resulted in a greater number of women elected to their legislature than in nearly any other English-speaking country.
STV works by creating voting districts of two to seven MLAs, and then fairly dividing up the seats based on the number of votes a party of a candidate received. It also allows voters to rank their first, second, and third candidates, so if your favourite candidate falls short, your vote can go to help your second-favourite candidate. Parties can run more than one candidate, so you have the final choice over which candidate is best to represent you. This way, if your current MLA is not doing their job, you could threaten to vote for someone else from the same party, in order to hold them accountable. This allows a party to run more women, youth, or minorities while giving voters the final say in who gets elected. It is an amazing system that is as easy for the voters as 1-2-3, and uses a modern counting mechanism to ensure that everyone’s vote counts. (You can visit stv.ca/ to see how it works.)
With BC-STV, a form of STV geared specifically to British Columbia, less than one in six votes will be wasted. The new voting system will also encourage politicians to cooperate, because BC-STV will prevent the creation of false majorities.
Despite BC-STV being fair to voters and being used in other English speaking countries, it has received a lot of opposition from politicians. Many politicians and backroom pundits are afraid that they will face new competition for their current seats, and so they will try to scare voters into rejecting BC-STV. They know that BC-STV will reduce polarized politics and help eliminate negative campaigning that has worked in the past. Instead of defending the current system, they will tear a page from Sarah Palin’s playbook and claim that “BC-STV is complicated and not worth the risk”.
British Columbians must reject the politics of fear and support real change.
If we wish to have real change, we must start by abandoning the divisive first-past-the-post system, and support BC-STV on May 12.
Damian Kettlewell is the deputy leader of the Green Party of B.C.