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EDITORIAL – Can we find a compromise on electoral reform? Maybe

(Image: BC-STV.com)

An ArmchairMayor.ca editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

THE BC LIBERALS may have unintentionally found a compromise to the debate on electoral reform. In electing a new party leader last weekend, they used a preferential voting system, with members ranking the candidates.

The candidate with the lowest number of votes was eliminated as ballots were counted, and the second choices for those who supported that candidate were distributed to those remaining, and so on.

It’s called the preferential or ranked ballot. It’s been used once in a B.C. general election. I mentioned yesterday the ascendancy of Social Credit to power in 1952. That was achieved with a single transferable vote system identical to what the BC Liberals just used in their leadership election.

It’s an enhancement of First Past the Post (or Single Member Plurality) in that it assures that the winner obtains a majority from among those who vote. The problem in 1952 was that the count was done manually and it took weeks to declare winners. That’s why it was promptly scrapped.

With today’s modern technology, the counting can be done in a couple of hours.

The preferential, ranked, transferable or alternative voting system — whatever you prefer to call it — is straight-forward in its pure form. An adulterated version of it has been included on the government’s list of options on its electoral reform survey website, except that it’s been mucked around with in an attempt to turn it into a proportional representation option.

Instead of leaving it alone, whoever put together the list threw in quotas and multiple-MLA electoral districts, similar to the BC-STV system that was defeated in two previous referendums.

It doesn’t have to be so complicated.

If we must have this rigged referendum on so-called electoral reform, then at least give true transferable voting a chance. There’s an opportunity here for the BC Liberals, NDP and Greens to find common ground on a system that will achieve what change advocates are so anxious about — avoiding what they insist on calling “wasted” votes while achieving majority consensus, and retaining simplicity.

Mel Rothenburger’s Armchair Mayor editorials appear twice daily Mondays through Thursdays on CFJC- TV. His Armchair Mayor column is published Saturdays on ArmchairMayor.ca and CFJC Today. Contact him at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

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About Mel Rothenburger (5947 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

12 Comments on EDITORIAL – Can we find a compromise on electoral reform? Maybe

  1. AV is FPTP on steriods. It exacerbates all the problems we now have with FPTP. It concentrates power with one party in perpetuity. The reason Trudeau loves it – Liberals would most likely be the second choice of the majority if not first.
    By my definition a truly democratic legislature would reflect the voting percentages of the electorate. In other words it would represent the diversity, opinions, and ideas of all British Columbians. Better laws, more cooperation, fewer policy swings.
    Power to the average British Columbian not the lobbyists, party hacks and bosses.

    • Mel Rothenburger // February 6, 2018 at 5:01 PM // Reply

      This is a serious, respectful question: what is the minimum percentage of the vote that would be required for a party/ independent to gain representation in the Legislature under the various forms of PR?

      • The minimum percent for a party to gain representation in the legislature is a design decision to be made in designing the form of PR.
        New Zealand, for example, has been debating whether it should be 5% or 4% since 1986. The Royal Commission in 1986 recommended 4%, a common threshold in many European countries like Sweden and Norway. When the question was put to the voters in the winning 1993 referendum the threshold proposed was Germany’s 5%. After the voters voted to keep MMP in the 2011 referendum, a review was undertaken by the Electoral Commission, which recommended in 2012 a change to 4% (in return for scrapping New Zealand’s unfortunate rule that a party winning one local single-member seat is exempt from the threshold). The conservative National Party government was not much interested in improving MMP, so they took no action. I have seen no mention of Jacinda Adern’s new Labour/Green/NZF government looking again at the 2012 review, but I will not be surprised if they do.
        But that isn’t a very good analogy to an MMP system for BC, since New Zealand (with the same population as BC but alone in the Pacific Ocean) has no regions, so uses national party lists plus local MPs. BC would almost certainly copy the regional system used in Scotland’s MMP system, with the added feature that your second vote is for a party’s candidate for regional MP, not just for a party. If the regions average 12 MLAs each, it will take around 7% of the vote in the region to win a regional seat. But a party might win a regional seat in its regional stronghold while getting only 2% of the votes across BC. Should there be a province-wide threshold, so that BC cannot end up like the Netherlands with 13 parties, the extreme model no one wants for BC? Sounds like a good idea.
        This discussion will be a lot simpler once the present “phony war” stage is over, and we are discussing an actual proposal.

      • Thanks for the question, Mel. As Wilf points out, the threshold depends on choices we make. Most serious proposals made for BC are based on treating regions of the province independently. In BC’s interior and north, there are currently 24 seats. There are two main approaches to achieving a proportional result: multimember districts (e.g., Single Transferable Vote, or the newer variants such as Local Proportional Representation) and topup regions (Mixed Member Proportional). The smallest topup region that one might imagine for MMP would be three seats – eg., take the three seats around Kamloops (including Fraser-Nicola), divide that area into two single seat ridings, and allow one ‘top-up’ seat. The threshold for representation there would be a little under one third (practically, probably about 25%). Alternatively, one could expand the region to include maybe the two Cariboo seats and/or the seven Okanagan seats, which would make the total region size respectively 5 or 10 or 12 seats. The thresholds for these regions would be about 16%, 8-10% and 6-8%, respectively.

        Similar reasoning applies when we think about multimember approaches. Again, if we created a three-seat Kamloops-Fraser-Nicola region (perhaps using the Local Proportional Representation approach to ensure that one MLA is elected from each existing riding), the threshold would be about 25%.

        In general, the threshold is about 100% divided by the number of seats in the region (plus 1).

        BTW, just to add to Susan Young’s comment: the Alternative Vote will not reduce wasted votes much – we’ll still have close to half our votes not affecting the composition of the legislature. To reduce this number to below 10%, we need to move to a true proportional approach.

      • Should the minimum percentage of the vote that would be required for a party to gain representation in the Legislature be the same across BC?

        This is one advantage of the Scottish MMP model, where the regions are the same size across Scotland. BC could do that too, with the number of seats per region being consistent across the different regions of BC. That gives all voters equally proportional election outcomes. No more urban/rural divide. Wales has the same system, and uses regions of 12 members. In a region of 12 MLAs in BC (7 local, 5 regional) everyone has a local MLA and has also helped elect 5 regional MLAs. The best of both worlds.

  2. David Derbowka // February 6, 2018 at 1:08 PM // Reply

    All Canadians are equal. Is this correct? All Canadians must get the same fairness in voting and voting reform. Is this correct? If a politician disagrees with either of the two answers; he or she obviously does not respect the voting public. If he or she does not respect the voting public; a lack of respect for a simple PR form of true democracy is underlying personal agenda. Is this assumption correct? I think I can trust only those who support a better democracy for this country. And it looks like a PR system to me.

    David R Derbowka

  3. Committees of legislatures, citizens assemblies, and independent commissions at both the provincial and federal levels have been studying electoral reform and making recommendations about voting systems in Canada since, at least, 1921. There have been dozens of them. All of them rejected a “preferential, ranked, transferable or alternative voting system — whatever you prefer to call it.” The reason is that they do nothing to correct the problems of First-Past-the-Post (FPtP); they exacerbate them.

    Ranked ballots are excellent for directly electing one person when there is one position or office to fulfill. For example, the ranked ballot works well when electing a leader of a political party or directly electing a mayor of a city. The ranked ballot, however, magnifies all FPtP’s flaws when it’s used to elect members of legislatures.

    The one exception to this is the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system where a ranked ballot is used to choose legislators for multi-member electoral districts—a topic for another day.

    What did all the investigations into electoral reform since 1921 recommend? All of them concluded that FPtP should be replaced with one of two proportional representative electoral systems: Single Transferable Vote or Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). They differ in this way: STV, like FPtP, is not predicated on there being political parties. MMP accommodates them.

    When many thousands of independent citizens and eminent persons study in-depth an issue for almost a century and arrive over and over again at the same conclusions, perhaps we might be well-advised to accept their counsel and not ‘reinvent the wheel.’

  4. The general populace would be in favour of such a system if it were explained to them as simply as you have explained it to us, however, the main reason that questions on “how we vote” haven’t been accepted is that they are SO poorly explained to us. Perhaps some of that is deliberate, I begin to think it is.

  5. Just to make it more complicated yet again… their leadership selection system wasn’t actually vote-based! They had ridings and points per riding. That means some votes counted more (or less) than others, depending on the total votes in the riding. If you look at the raw data, the order was actually different based on number of votes ‘for’. Lee was actually leading the pack on actual votes but not on points.

    If you can find the raw data, it’s quite ‘enlightening’…

  6. David Pearce // February 6, 2018 at 9:18 AM // Reply

    Probably under first-past-the-post, Diane Watts would have won the race to be leader of the BC Liberals. AV is fine when the is only one person to be elected, but when a government is being elected, only proportional representation is fair. PR does away with the near monopoly of BC politics. Did we like having a telecommunications monopoly?

  7. I like it. But, have you heard the new Liberal leader? – Whittaker or Wilkinson, too new to get his name right first try. Sounded pretty autocratic in his interview with Doug Herbert yesterday on Daybreak. He quickly cast a icey chill on the question when Doug noted that he would not be the leader with the First Past The Post system. Methinks the political groundhog saw his shadow on February 3rd, retreated for cover, predicting six more years of Winter weather.

  8. “It doesn’t have to be so complicated.”
    If that’s the case then why not!
    But will numbers clean up politics?
    A far-fetched idea.

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