Single transferable vote would break down political barriers in B.C.

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 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.

See also:
BC-STV is simply no better than our current electoral system



Antony Hodgson

Feb 14, 2009 at 11:54pm

Well said, Damian. Our voting system has structural incentives that discourage the creation of broadly supported policies. Instead, we get governments governing from further to the right or left than most of us are comfortable with and we have no effective ways of integrating other perspectives into our legislative processes. In fact, I recently heard David Schreck (STV opponent) telling Bill Good that government opponents could have more influence outside of legislative processes than within them (eg, by writing letters to the editor) - what a damning indictment of our political system when there's no legitimate way for those who do not support the government to influence legislation through the committee processes which are the actual crucibles of our legislation. No wonder we have such a protest culture here in BC. It's certainly high time we had a voting system that gives all of us seats at the public table.

David Schreck

Feb 15, 2009 at 7:31pm

Anthony no doubt meant well with his comment, but as is frequently the case with proponents of STV, what he described as happening in the Legislature is imagined. The only committee that deals with legislation is the committee of the whole in third reading debate. Most legislation passes unanimously but on the pieces that are controversial, the opposition attempts to delay it so public pressure can build to change the mind of the government. Hence those who play a role outside of the legislature are an essential part of our political process.

As for Damian's assertions, proponents of STV assert but cannot prove that what they don't like in our political system can be changed by changing how politicians are elected. Take a close look at politics in Ireland, Malta and Tasmania. Changing the way representatives are elected doesn't change how politicians behave.

David Schreck


Feb 15, 2009 at 9:41pm

Damian - keep trying to sell the STV system that even former Green Party Leader Adriane Carr vehemently opposed. The facts are the STV is used in just two tiny island nations as a national electoral system - Malta and Ireland.

Those two countries, who could easily fit in the bottom part of Vancouver Island, make up 1/10th of 1% of the world's democratic voters. First Past The Post voters represent about 45% of voters.

But the reality is that even supporters of proportional representation are opposed to this obscure, complicated and confusing electoral system.

And Fair Voting BC's leaders, Bruce Hallsor, admitted in a debate with me on CKNW that STV isn't truly proportional anyway.

Lastly - for now - there are more women represented in the Canadian House of Commons than there are in either Ireland or Malta - under STV. We would both agree that more women should be in politics - but STV won't do it.

Nor will it bring in more 3rd party or independents - Malta hasn't elected a single representative in either of those categories since the 1960s!

Bill Tieleman

Antony Hodgson

Feb 16, 2009 at 10:00am

David, I consider committee reports to be the first stage in the legislation-creation process. This is the stage where the goals of the legislation get hammered out, where the public should be consulted and involved in the process, and where multipartisan consensus can be generated. I seek a larger role for parliamentary committees in our public processes, with broadly representative membership and extensive public and community input and involvement so that the legislation which results reflects and takes account of the widest possible array of concerns.

Under BC-STV, the resulting legislation will have to be supported by representatives of a true majority of the population, rather than being a narrow expression of the interests of a minority of the population as it so often is now.

Antony Hodgson
Director, Fair Voting BC
Supporting the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform
Check for information on the May 12th referendum

Antony Hodgson

Feb 16, 2009 at 10:51am

Bill, in case you haven’t noticed, BC isn’t a nation, so what’s your point? As for Bruce’s comment, I’m not sure what ”˜truly proportional’ means anyway. Do you dispute that BC-STV is far less disproportional than our current voting system? You’ve always gone silent and refused to answer when I’ve asked you that in the past. The fact is, though Bill won’t admit it, that the average difference between the winning party’s vote share and seat share under FPTP here in BC has been 20%, while it’s only been about 3.5% in Ireland, about on par with most Mixed Member Proportional systems, and BC-STV does this while maintaining strong local representation – in contrast to most MMP systems where the at-large representatives are typically responsible for the whole electorate (eg, New Zealand) or a large region (eg, Germany). This combination of fairness of outcome and strong (and indeed enhanced) local representation is one of the main reasons why the non-partisan Citizens’ Assembly chose BC-STV.

BC-STV will also likely significantly improve opportunities for women to win election. Saying we should reject STV because Malta elects few women is as valid as saying we should reject FPTP because Yemen elects only one woman there. Scholars have reached the opposite conclusion. Two recent examples:

Kaminsky (2007) ”˜Electoral Systems and Women's Representation in Australia', Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 45:2, 185 – 201.

“This article tests the hypothesis that multi-member single transferable vote systems elect more women than single-member district systems by analysing the two houses of the Australian Parliament. The data regarding the number of female members of the Australian Parliament has been collected since the first woman was elected 61 years ago. The Senate, which utilises an STV voting system, has averaged more than two and a half times the percentage of women elected than the SMD House. The data confirms that multi-member district electoral systems using STV elect more women than single-member districts.”

White (2006) New Hibernia Review / Iris íˆireannach Nua,10:4, pp 71-83.

“Recent research in other national settings, especially Australia, leads one to expect that STV would result in a relatively high number of women elected to Ireland’s lower house; but the number of women TDs elected since the founding of the Free State is surprisingly small.This finding does not necessarily contradict the results of research in other states that use a similar electoral system. Instead, it indicates that something beyond the mechanics of the electoral system accounts for the relatively low number of women elected to the Dail.”

“The STV election system used in Ireland does not appear to be an obstacle and may, in fact, help to achieve higher levels ofwomen’s representation as more female candidates emerge and run for the Dail. Both party magnitude and the threshold effect based on the multimember nature of constituencies for the Dail encourage female representation.”

Scholarly consensus is that women will be elected more frequently when an electoral system offers multimember districts (which STV does) and when a society does not have strong prejudices against women participating in political processes (BC is very progressive on this front). The single largest contributor to the number of women who win seats, regardless of voting system, is how frequently they’re nominated. With BC-STV, parties will have a strong incentive to put forward gender-balanced slates of candidates, especially if one of the major parties makes such a choice. Since the NDP already has a policy in place aimed at nominating more women candidates, they would likely shift to a gender-balanced policy under BC-STV and the Liberals would likely follow.

Finally, Bill, STV clearly opens the way for third parties and independents to win seats. Smaller parties won 25% of the seats in the 2007 Irish election and five independents won as well. STV doesn’t mandate that smaller parties win seats (in Malta, less than 2% of the vote was cast for anyone other than the two dominant parties), but it certainly makes it possible. In BC, it’s a virtual certainty that a party that wins 10% or more of the vote province-wide will start winning seats, and even when they don't, their supporters' votes will still affect which candidates from larger parties win, so they will have more influence than they do now with FPTP.

Antony Hodgson
Director, Fair Voting BC
Supporting the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform
Check for information on the May 12th referendum


Feb 17, 2009 at 7:52pm

Bill Tieleman,

You seem obsessed with Malta and Ireland, and arguing that they're not the same as British Columbia. What an utterly irrelevant thing to point out.

All that matters is how STV would change elections and government selection here in British Columbia. How about sticking to the debate at hand, instead of going off on silly tangents?

Here's my ultimate question to you, Bill: in a democracy, who should get to choose which election system we use? The voters, or the politicians?

British Columbian voters designed and chose BC-STV. Meanwhile, I primarily hear politicians and backroom party hacks sticking up for first-past-the-post. Political elitism at its ugliest.

Please explain to the British Columbian voters why you do not support the decision of 93% of the Citizens' Assembly to adopt BC-STV, Bill. And please explain to them why they should continue to support an antiquated electoral mechanism (first-past-the-post) that promotes a bipolar party system (Big Business versus Big Labour), when the majority of voters want pragmatic centrism from their government.

Only 35% of youth voters bothered to turn out in 2005. It's time for change, Bill. It's time for BC-STV.

Dan Grice

Feb 20, 2009 at 5:29pm

Bill Tieleman,

Your ability to twist facts is obviously much more acute than your ability to read maps.

The Republic of Ireland is 70,000 Square Kilometers.

Vancouver Island is 32,000 Square Kilometers.
Metro Vancouver, home to half of British Columbians is 2800 Square Kilometer
The Okanagan is 20,000 square Kilometers.

Together, 75% of BCs population lives in an area 75% of the size of Ireland.

If you exclude parks and crown land, BC land mass is around 50,000 square kilometers.

Yes, Northern BC will have large districts under BC-STV. So large, they are nearly 3/4 the size of Canadas federal ridings and the same size as the ridings were up until 1991.



Apr 21, 2009 at 1:01pm

I'm an NDP voter. Columns by Tieleman and Shreck were often read by me with eager anticipation. They were my "go to guys" for the lefty analysis and response to various issues of the day. Like most people I'm too busy so I trusted them for my information.

With STV I did my own research.

These two guys are wrong and are fear mongering to protect the power of the political elite. My own research agrees with many of the other posters in favour of STV especially Hodgsen, who has been very articulate and fair in his comments.

After this, can one ever again trust Tieleman's and Shrecks' views on other issues?

I can't.