Apr 25, 2009

STV is worth trying


Great to see a debate kicked off among our research associates and others about the pros and cons of BC-STV. As Marc mentions below, the current issue of the CCPA’s BC Commentary has a special collection on STV, which you can download here.

Keith outlines the case against STV below. And while the CCPA has no official position, I’d like to weigh in with why I strongly support STV.

No electoral system is perfect; each has strengths and weaknesses. But one thing is clear – our current first-past-the-post system produces perverse results and does not deliver good government.

It tends to produce majorities that govern with impunity, prepared to put their ideological agenda ahead of the public will. So why not experiment with another system?

A common concern about STV is that the ridings (particularly in rural BC) will be too large, undermining representation. Yet how effective was people’s representation between 2001 and 2005, when the current system produced a Liberal sweep across all ridings save two in East Vancouver. I can recall traveling around the province in 2002 giving talks, as communities sought to mobilize against the cuts of the Campbell government’s first mandate, and I frequently heard the lament that people’s MLAs simply refused to meet with them. It did not matter if the MLA’s office was just down the street; if the door remained barred, representation was illusory.

Wouldn’t it be far preferable to have a few MLAs representing your constituency, at least some of whom share your political orientation?

Another concern about STV is that the ballots will be large and complicated, much like the at-large municipal ballots. It is true that the ballots can be large under STV, but it is not complicated to simply rank as many choices as you wish. (The counting is, as the critics claim, more complex, but reasonably easy to understand with a little effort; check out this excellent video cartoon produced by the Citizens Assembly for Electoral Reform. Keith feels the video demonstrates how complex the system is; I disagree.)

And unlike the municipal at-large system, which allows one party to virtually sweep all seats, because votes are ranked under STV, the result will more closely reflect the distribution of the popular vote (that’s why STV is rightly viewed as a form of proportional representation).

Some don’t like proportional representation because they fear that regular minority governments will result in gridlock and instability. But progressives have been well served by minority governments. They have produced important changes that most Canadians support, including the Canada Pension Plan, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, increased federal transfers to the provinces, and Canada’s most cherished social program –– Medicare.

And given the historic breakdown of the popular vote in BC, proportional representation (including STV) will tend to produce coalition governments made up of left-leaning parties (the NDP and Greens).

The public is disillusioned with our current system. Voter turnout is falling. Let’s try something new with the potential to breath new life into our democracy.

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