Electoral Reform? Try a reformed electorate

This is a guest post by Dave Lundy, a truck driver who resides in Sapperton. He is active within the political community of Burnaby, New Westminster and Coquitlam. His passion is politics. An outspoken, opinionated contributor in various forums on Tenth to the Fraser, Dave has had numerous letters to the editor published in local newspapers. He is married to his wonderful wife Sheila and they are the proud parents of Saba the Cat. He also has 2 step children, Christine who resides in the Yukon, and Tom who is serving in the Canadian military.

We have just finished with another Federal election. The results are in and we have a Conservative majority government. This also means that, at least on the federal political scene, there is 4 years before the next federal election.

Politics can be a passionate pursuit. Though I may not see eye to eye politically with people with political views differing from my own, I respect the fact that people like David Brett and John Ashdown offer their views of politics and opinions as passionately as I do. If everyone thought the exact same way, we’d die of boredom. I think that it can be said that most of us want whats best for everyone, regardless of political stripe. The fact that we are involved politically as passionately as we are, shows that. Though people have differing political views, at least we take the time to be active, to debate, to be vocal, to stand up and be heard.

The latest flavour of the month is the voter turnout. I don’t believe changing the electoral system will address the issue of voter apathy. Sorry sorry Rebecca Helps (btw, wasn’t it nice to have Rebecca text her media to New Westminster Coquitlam from Elizabeth May’s victory party in Saanich. I don’t think she spent that much time in the riding she was actually running in at all. Now there’s someone who takes the citizens in New Westminster Coquitlam completely and totally for granted. I hope that in 4 years time, everyone remembers her for that)

And believe it or not… sorry Fin. Yes Fin Donnelly and in fact the NDP federally are on record as supporting electoral reform. That is one area where I distinctly differ from the party to which I support.

Whether its electoral reform, electronic balloting, or what have you, none of those things address the core reason why we have 55 to 60% voter turnout for elections. To me, it has everything to do with the way elections are portrayed by the media in Canada. Where ever you choose to get your information from, you see the area of politics constantly under attack. The media does a great job of smearing those people like Fin, Peter, Diana, Paul, Dawn, etc as being nothing more than “on the gravy train”. Yet these people cast aside their chosen professions to serve the people of Canada. For the next 4 years, our elected officials will be working in and out of the constituency offices on behalf of their constituents, as well as the citizens of Canada. Regardless of your political stripe, anyone willing to do that, should be respected. You have the Canadian Taxpayers Federation time and again slamming parliament and politics in general Then there was Stephen Harper and the Conservatives telling voters “this election you have a choice between a Conservative Majority and a coalition of the socialists and separtists.”

You have the leader of the Opposition saying, “its a 2 party battle, Liberal and Conservative.” Nothing but doom and gloom from both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

But I digress. Everywhere you look, the entire political process is being put down, slammed, mocked,etc. People are constantly being told, “you have no say in elections” and other ignorant misleading statements. When I was in Grade 4, there was a federal election on. In my class specifically, I remember one of the candidates coming to talk to us about it. He was a young guy named Svend Robinson, running in Tommy Douglas’ riding of Burnaby Edmonds. We had a mock election, in the class. To be brief, I learned about the electoral process itself in Grade 4. That would have been when I was 8 or 9 years old. Today, we talk about politics and elections like they are a dirty word, or a chore, or something to be ignored, something distasteful. Its been a systemic thing that’s taken place over the last 30 plus years.

But its not just the politics that have been under attack. It’s, in my opinion, service to the community in general, that has been vilified to a dangerous extent. In Canada, we talk about a caring compassionate society that we live in. And don’t get me wrong there are lots of people who either work or volunteer to help make people’s lives better. But one only needs to look at the attacks in the local papers of the Last Door by citizens in and around Brow of the Hill, to see that our society is not about “we”, its about “me.”

“What is in it for me, to get out and vote?”
“Why should I care about the homelessness problems plaguing our region?” “Why should I care who gets elected?”

A prime example of the “me” generation and mentality, is in our local grocery stores. Self Serve checkouts. (ok this is a topic that could go on its own so I’ll try and keep it brief to my point.) No one gets a discount off of the price of their groceries for using these machines over a cashier. Yet people will gladly go to one of these things and in effect do someone’s job for them, for free. Surprisingly enough, I’ve told a few people this, and they shrug at me. But when I turn around and say, “how about I come to your workplace and do your job …. for free, how are you going to be able to provide for your family then if you’ve been replaced by a machine, with no benefit to you at all, other than unemployment.” And the answer is always the same, “That will never happen. Why do you care?”

I care because I can see where grocery stores (in this example) are forcing people to use these contraptions by short staffing the stores on purpose, and laying off staff. All the while pocketing the savings in labour costs built into the price of the goods being bought. If you think that goods will be cheaper at Safeway and Save On should they get rid of their cashiers and replace them all with self-serve, you’re on another planet. Their margins will increase significantly. But as I said, I digress.

That cashier is a productive member of society. That self serve checkout is a machine. It doesn’t give back to the community. It doesn’t vote. It doesn’t have kids in school and extra curricular activities, its a freaking machine. That cashier spends money in businesses, the machines eat money, but other than the occasional lube job and repair, don’t contribute one dime to New Westminster. Yet we are being conditioned to merely accept these things, as ways to “speed up the process.” While with me, I give people crap for using them. If people are willing to accept things like self serve checkouts, and not see the bigger picture, its just another sign of how short sighted a society we live in. I would bet if enough people demanded prompt friendly HUMAN service at the Safeways and Save Ons and not enough people used the self serve checkouts to make them worth while, that they would go away and that the store would staff its store properly. But people aren’t willing to stand up for that. Its about what people are willing to accept.

They want the quick, easy, convenient way. And that same mentality is creeping into our voting system and politics. People don’t want to get involved in the process. They don’t look at voting as a privilege or a right that over the past 144 years many Canadian men and women have fought and died for to preserve and protect (actually longer than that if you back to the war of 1812.) We are conditioned by the media and even our own government to take things for granted. That way, when your medicare premiums double, and wait times triple, when HST is shoved down your throat, when wages are frozen and enshrined rights are taken away, people just sit back and say, “oh well, what can we do?” And then they talk about changing the electoral system.

Its not the electoral system that’s broken, its the electorate and the engagement of the electorate that needs to be fixed.

BC-STV Not Supported by Voters in the Royal City

i voted today.
Image by hessiebell via Flickr

As of 10:15 pm:

With 10 of 148 ballot boxed reporting, BC-STV has earned only 44% of the vote so far. 60% of the provincial popular vote is required for the electoral reform referendum to be passed.

Currently, provincial popular support for BC-STV is about 39%, a blow for BC-STV supporters. Major news outlets have called the defeat of the initiative.

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The BC Election Results Roll In.

I returned home recently from casting my ballots for the Referendum on Electoral Reform and for the provincial election. Passing a ‘save our schools’ sign near the parking lot of Connaught Heights Elementary School, we were greeted warmly by our fellow citizens and after a short paperwork check, we voted. I am one of those kooks that really like voting and now as I write, my wife and I are glued to our radios and computers, absorbing the returns (none yet) as they come in.

One point that struck me was the truth or falsity of the claim that a vote for the governing party is a wise move for a riding. The theory goes thus: if your riding has an MLA or an MP that is part of the governing party, your voice is more likely to be heard. Looking over the last 2 election cycles here in British Columbia, I don’t know if that is true. In our province, it is the opposition MLAs are able to fight for injustices, roil and debate in the legislature and generally cause a ‘hullabaloo’ on behalf of the constituency.

Think of the Liberal party discipline: write a questionable letter, you’re out. Speak up against established party doctrine: you’re out, or side-lined.

If you think about it, most of the reasons you need to get your MLA to go to bat for you are due to the actions of the government. School policies, hospital closures, waste and transit initiatives that impact your community; these things are brought by government and if there is a real concern and if your rep is in government, aren’t you S.O.L?A concrete example is MLA and AG Wally Oppal and insurgent indy candidate Vicki Huntington. The popularity of Ms. Huntington can be seen as a direct result of Mr. Oppals inability to represent the views of his riding in the public forum. If his voters don’t see him as their man, whose is he?

That brings me to STV. Imagine a riding with more than one MLA. One in government, one or two in opposition. Even if you voted for the MLA that is in government as your #1 choice, you have two other reps to go to bat for you if the some policy of the government threatens to bite you in the rear. Gone is the four year dictatorship. Instead we get a continuous conversation with the citizen.

As we go into the next cycle, I hope the STV will have passed, and the results of the next election will truely reflect the views of British Columbians and the citizens of New Westminster.

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BC-STV Debate Follows All Candidates Event.

In Favour Greg Henschel, opposed Anita Hagen.

Henschel was a member of the Citizens Assembly on Election Reform. He was chosen at random to participate. He reminds us that the assembly was brought together by the government to give recommendations on electoral reform after recent elections ( for example in 2001 when the Liberals won all but 2 seats with 53% of the popular vote).  After much discussion and research, the group settled on STV as a way to provide multiple MLAs to represent the population more accurately. With no time to present the details of the STV plan, he asks us to see his video.  I have embedded it here.

Anita Hagen, former BC cabinet minister, speaking against BC-STV and the current first-past-the-post, says that the system is not proven and not applicable for large geographic areas. One new riding will be bigger than Ireland. The size of the constituencies leads to representatives that may not understand all areas of the problems. Ms. Hagen explains that it is complicated and could dissuade voters. Hagen speaks directly and brings a sense of urgency to the issue. She suggests that a “no stv” vote now could lead to a better solution tomorrow. She insists that he does not represent the first-past-the-post system but rather that she opposes BC-STV. One concern for Hagen would be a dilution of public accountability. More information can be found at www.nostv.org.

Want another New Westminster Debate Laugh?

Public Question: Greg can you explain STV in 10 seconds? Greg: Yes.

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What would BC- STV do for New West?

This is a guest post by Reena Meijer Drees, who is a New Westminster resident active in the campaign supporting BC-STV. Watch for a follow-up post tomorrow on the potential impact of electoral reform on local politics. You can read more about BC-STV on Reena’s blog and STV.ca (”Yes” side) or nostv.org (”No” side). Opponents of STV are welcome to respond in the comments and/or write a guest post supporting their position.

If BC-STV were to be implemented, there would be some changes to how our elections would run. I’ve discussed these in other postings. But there would likely be some interesting consequences to those changes, which is what I’ll touch on here.

New Burnaby-New Westminster riding

BC-STV means larger ridings. The BC Electoral Commission has designed the new ridings that would be implemented. You can see them in a clickable map here. The 4 current ridings of Burnaby would been combined with the single New Westminster riding to produce the new BC-STV riding of Burnaby-New Westminster. This new riding would elect 5 MLAs – so the total number of MLAs from Burnaby + New Westminster wouldn’t change.

Preferential ballot…

To elect 5 MLAs, our ballots would change. We’d be faced with a larger list of candidates on a preferential ballot. It would be like our municipal elections are now, but instead of marking “x”s next to our chosen candidates, we would rank the candidates in order of our preference with a 1, 2, 3…up to as many as you want (even a single one is allowed).

This new way of voting would lead to some interesting changes.

For starters, it’d be stupid for the NDP or the Liberals to run 5 candidates in this new riding. Why? Well, they could never win all 5 of the seats – neither party ever gets close to 100% of the popular vote! So why run 5 candidates? It’s a waste of time and money. They would likely each run 3 candidates, at most. Smaller parties would run one, maybe 2 candidates, so maybe we’d see a Green or two, and some of the other smaller parties. I’m starting to imagine the ballot already, and how I would vote…quite differently from under the current system!

Open competition between candidates

Under BC-STV, I’d have a choice of NDP (or Liberal) candidates! Suddenly, voters would have a say in which candidates they think are more qualified for the post (instead of now, where that selection is made by the party). So, there would suddenly be open competition between candidates of the same party! I think the concept of a “safe seat” is history, in this kind of system.

Those second choices

Under BC-STV, not all candidates will be elected with only “first choices”. Most will need at least some of those “second choices” to win. If they go around slagging everyone else’s ideas, running a negative campaign, I think their chances of getting those second choices is going to be pretty slim. So, the pressure would be on to run more congenial, co-operative campaigns. Even between different parties.

More diversity

I think we might also see some changes in the types of candidates put forward. I think the pressure would be on to put forward a more diverse slate of candidates, one more reflective of the demographics of the riding. Similarly, pressure would be on to ensure that all regions of the riding were represented; that not all the candidates would be from, say, the north side of Burnaby. Why? Because a more diverse slate would probably be able to garner more votes.

New Westminster’s perspective?

Won’t that get lost if we are sucked onto Burnaby? Well, according to the argument above, it would be foolish if either of the major parties did not run a single candidate from New Westminster in their slates, or make a point of addressing this concern. But in addition to that, our “unique perspective” means that we have different priorities on specific issues such as homelessness and addiction, health, education (that danged High School!), transportation / traffic, etc. Burnaby has the same issues – just maybe not with the same priority. Under BC-STV, we would have 5 MLAs to go to on any of these issues – each of these politicians must represent us. A politician worth his or her salt, even if they didn’t actually reside in New Westminster, would listen and learn, reprioritize, and take those concerns to Victoria. And if they didn’t, you’d go to one of the others (and not vote for the unresponsive one next time!).

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Why reform BC politics?

This is a guest post by Reena Meijer Drees, who is a New Westminster resident active in the campaign supporting BC-STV. Watch for a follow-up post tomorrow on the potential impact of electoral reform on local politics. You can read more about BC-STV on Reena’s blog and STV.ca (“Yes” side) or nostv.org (“No” side). Opponents of STV are welcome to respond in the comments and/or write a guest post supporting their position.

Remember the referendum on electoral reform in 2005?

I never paid the slightest attention to electoral reform before we had that referendum here in BC. I didn’t even know that reform was possible.

After the referendum, though, I started reading about electoral systems, and the more I’ve read, the more indignant I’Ive become about the way politics works here in BC. I’ve become convinced that we need a change.

Don’t think we need a little shakeup? Check out this quiz on the bc-stv website. It really brought the issue of “fairness” to the front, for me.

Here’s a list of what bugs me about our present, “first-past-the-post” system here in BC:

  • there is almost no relationship between the popular vote, and how many seats a party wins. This means that sometimes, the wrong party wins – that is, the party with the lower share of the popular vote actually forms a majority government!
  • the usual state of affairs is that it takes only 40% of the popular vote to form a single-party majority government. What’s worse, the more parties there are, the lower this number gets. Just check out what happens federally. Please tell me why this is still called a “majority” government…
  • the number of votes it takes to get elected varies like crazy. In 2001, every 12,000 Liberal voters got an MLA. That year, it took 171,000 voters to get an NDP MLA in, and the 200,000 Green voters got nobody. This is fair to nobody – not to the NDP, not to the Greens, not to the voters. And results like this happen all the time.
  • the Legislature doesn’t reflect BC’s diverse population. It is still overwhelmingly white and male.
    political parties don’t seem very interested in working together to achieve anything. Whatever happened to our glorious history of doing things “for the people”? Campaigns are negative, attack ads and mudslinging the order of the day.
  • when it comes to voting time, I get the feeling that I’m wasting my time. I know in advance who will win in my riding, so voting for someone else is throwing my vote away. With a system like this, why bother voting?
  • my MLA doesn’t ever seem to do very much for my riding. We’ve had hospital closures, and now ongoing school issues (will we EVER get a new high school?), and our MLA doesn’t appear to me to be much of a voice for our concerns.

What causes these problems? Is it democracy itself?

Nope. Turns out that most of these things can be fixed – or at least given a kick in the pants – by changing the way we elect our representatives. There are plenty of different systems in use around the world, that we can look at and learn from! In fact, the Citizen’s Assembly of BC spent a year doing exactly this, in 2004-2005. They overwhelmingly recommended a system called BC-STV.

And as luck would have it, on May 12 this year, we get to vote again on whether or not BC should implement their recommended system.

What are we waiting for?

Coming tomorrow: Reena writes about what BC-STV would do for New West.