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On May 12, vote safely: Don't give BC an STV

Electoral reformers in Canada have proven time and time again that they want absolutely anything, as long as it isn't what we have. Their latest principle compromise is the referendum in BC next week, where the province will vote, for the second time, on an obscure and barely used electoral system called the Single Transferable Vote (STV). At its core is the best possible electoral system: a preferential ballot, but the proposal in BC then takes a good idea and bastardises it so totally that, were it to pass, BC could kiss representation goodbye.

The problem is simple. BC intends to turn simple, single-member ridings into massive conglomerations of unrelated communities with multiple representatives forced to compete with local politicians to keep themselves relevant. These mega-ridings will be made up of as many as seven current ridings, with seven representatives. The premise is that with multiple representatives per riding, small parties have a chance of winning where they would currently be shut out on the vote split. While there's little evidence to support this, there is a misconception that the off-chance of a fringe party winning a seat if the mega-riding is sufficiently diverse makes the electoral system "proportional." It isn't.

Were this to be in Ontario, the equivalent where I live would be to have the ridings of Guelph, Wellington Halton-Hills, Flamborough-Dundas-Ancaster, Kitchener-Conestoga, Kitchener-Centre, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge merged into one mega-riding.

It's pretty easy to see where the problems would be. In the recent federal election, Guelph had ten candidates. Between these seven ridings there would have been more than forty.

Imagine, for a moment, an all-candidates debate with forty candidates.

If you live in Georgetown, a city that is significant within the current riding of Wellington-Halton Hills, do you expect ever, in an entire 36 day campaign, to hear from any of the forty candidates in your riding when they each have every door in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, and if they get to it, Guelph to knock on?

Having gone door-to-door in the last election in Guelph, I know how difficult it is to hit every door in the city. We had an 82-day campaign, thanks to the cancellation of our by-election, and one riding. Every candidate in an STV election would normally have a 36 day campaign and seven ridings to cover, giving a maximum of five days per current riding to campaign.

It isn't rational. And if you expect your MPs to give your community any reasonable representation, you're in for a surprise under STV. Just like a campaign is likely to concentrate on vote-rich communities within a mega-riding, representation by seven people of the same riding will concentrate where the most political points can be gained. As every representative has to cover seven times as much territory -- and they all overlap, unlike today where each representative has a clearly defined limit -- small pockets of the mega-riding will be massively overrepresented, and the rest will be hard-pressed to get any attention whatsoever.

Moreover, by having overlapping ridings, as I have been told happens in Ireland one of a tiny number of countries in the world to use this system, representatives will compete with each-other to do more on the local level, and step on the toes of municipally elected politicians.

Once again, a province in Canada is voting on electoral reform that is change for the sake of change, with its proponents having failed to think through the ramifications of its adoption. Single-winner, single-riding STV, known as Instant Run-Off Voting, would be an ideal sort of system. Mashing up the province with mega-ridings, and pretending that it adds proportionality, negates any benefits of the reform and hurts the democratic representation the province deserves.

For me as someone outside of BC who thinks electoral reform should be careful and considered, not slipshod and emotional, this referendum is very important. The result of this referendum in BC has national implications. The passage of STV, were it to happen, could ultimately result in a national STV campaign. Pro-STV activists, who know the destructive effects of this system but have a stated agenda of pure proportional representation, want this to happen quickly, before BC has another election under the new system.

When BC votes next Tuesday, I urge them to consider their vote, and its ramifications carefully. Just because it is different does not make it better.

Think it through. Don't give BC an STV.

Posted at 11:22 on May 06, 2009

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

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Anon writes at Wed May 6 16:09:51 EDT 2009...

STV is still better than what we got.

Skinny Dipper (skinnydips.blogspot.com) writes at Wed May 6 16:47:14 EDT 2009...

STV, a great voting system, is not perfectly proportional. I would estimate that there may be an party vote%-seat% error rate of +/-5%. This is much better than the +/-20% that occurs under First-Past-the-Post. STV is more proportional than FPTP. Some countries use pure List systems where there is one list for the whole country; local representation does not matter. Others use MMP.

Under STV in Ireland, each party usually divides a multimember riding into unofficial "bailiwicks" where each party candidate covers a section of the riding. That way, the same party candidates are not competing against each other on the ground. It's a more efficient way of campaigning.

As for voting reformers wanting any kind of proportional representation system--I supported MMP in Ontario because the Citizens' Assembly of Ontario proposed it. In BC, its Citizens' Assembly proposed STV (which I also support). If by chance STV gets between 50 and 59% support in BC's referendum, if the NDP's Carole James becomes the premier, and if she promised a referendum on MMP, I would not support it because it will have not been proposed by a citizens' assembly; STV would have already been endorsed by a majority of the voters--twice!

You support the Alternative Vote with one MLA per riding. That MLA would need to achieve at least 50% + 1 vote in order to win. Voters would probably rank ballots as would be done under STV. The big difference is that AV is not proportional whereas STV is highly proportional. Under AV, a party with 40% of the vote could win 60% of the seats and 100% of the power. AV = FPTP.

Vote for BC-STV on May 12.

MJ Ray (mjr.towers.org.uk) writes at Thu May 7 10:18:28 EDT 2009...

Is it really regionalisation you object to, or have they proposed some stupid STV modification?

David Graham (cdlu.net) writes at Thu May 7 10:33:10 EDT 2009...


That's a matter of opinion. My opinion is that STV is a step away from progress, but one that could, without regionalisation, be an improvement.

Skinny Dipper,

STV's proportionality is, at best, incidental. A strong voting block from one party can still put in seven candidates from their party under STV. It isn't that having a mega-riding will make it magically proportional.

I do support AV, because AV is a superior system to what we have. It reduces strategic voting, which is the only major problem I see in our system, and allows people to vote for who they want, not who they can put up with.


Yes, regionalisation is the problem. With a country the size of Canada that already has country-sized ridings, combining them is a non-starter. Making multi-member multi-winner ridings with overlap and hoping, as Skinny Dipper suggests, that the parties gerrymander the ridings to their tastes after the fact, is simply an affront to representative democracy.

Having any electoral system where representatives choose who they represent, rather than the other way around, is anti-democratic and should never be approved.

Ralph Anderson (www.magma.ca/~ralphdsl) writes at Fri May 29 16:09:32 EDT 2009...

David, excellent example on the "way too many candidates" problem with multi-member systems.

MJ, when you say "Having any electoral system where representatives choose who they represent, rather than the other way around, is anti-democratic and should never be approved", that was well put. That's the problem with secret ballots in multi-member systems.

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