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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13 Replies to “What would BC- STV do for New West?”

  1. Great post, Reena. We had Reena as a guest to talk about this issue at our last McBride Sapperton RA meeting. As Geoff Pinkerton, our RA vice-president put it, “A downside of the STV is the loss of local representation. Right now we have an MLA for New Westminster – in the future, we could have 5 MLA’s that would cover Burnaby and New Westminster and we may lose the small town representation.”

  2. Hi Neil, this statement about local rep isn’t correct. And it is my fault that I didn’t spend more time on this very important issue.

    In fact, BC-STV actually IMPROVES local representation. How?

    In the last election, our MLA won with 49% of the vote. That means that **over half** of New Westminster residents do not have an MLA whose values they share! The MLA may live in New West, but if his or her party stands for policies with which you strongly disagree, and which affect your community (ex. hospital closures, transportation policies, etc), then you have nobody to turn to to complain. MLAs from Burnaby aren’t going to listen. So how is this good local representation?

    Under BC-STV, only about 10% of voters will not have an MLA from a party that they support. Because of the multiple MLAs, more points of view are represented. For example, if you disagree with the NDP’s stance on a particular issue in your community, you can go to an MLA from another party to get satisfaction. They will have to listen, they represent the riding, even if they happen to live in Burnaby.

  3. Vaughn Palmer will be doing an hour on this on the show he hosts on the cable channel (Voice of B.C., Shaw tv); it will air April 30th.

  4. Lisa, this is terrific news.

    I will spread it around the STV community for some "viralization"!

  5. STV as it seems would mean that local representation would be a thing of the past. The example of a Burnaby New Westminster riding is heavily weighted toward Burnaby and away from New West. I am opposed to STV because I don’t fully understand how the system works entirely. Other than choosing first second and third, how the count works and how it would be a benefit to New Westminster and enhance local representation. As I see it and based on the discussions I’ve heard in favour of it, nothing seems to justify the change in the system. Not too mention the fact you have to be weary of anything Campbell proposes, including changing the electoral system when he held a 77 to 2 edge in the Leg. The guy does nothing without it benefitting him and his friends. Trust and Campbell are long lost bedfellows.

  6. 1. Campbell **did not** propose BC-STV. It was proposed by a group of ordinary, randomly chosen voters. After 1 year of study they overwhelmingly chose BC-STV. Politicians and people active in political parties were **specifically excluded** from the Assembly. In fact, most politicians HATE the system because it reduces their power. Check out the NO side – mostly political insiders. Irish politicians have twice tried to remove STV from their system – the voters have turned them down each time.

    2. BC-STV enhances local rep. Right now, about 50% of New Westminsterites DID NOT VOTE for our MLA. So how are these folks represented?? If the NDP do something I disagree with, and I didn't vote NDP, where can I go?? The nearest non-NDP MLA is in some other riding and is not going to listen to me. Under BC-STV most people would have an MLA, because there would be 5 MLAs from the Burnaby-NW riding (likely 2 NDP, 2 Lib and 1 "up for grabs"). Would you rather have NO MLA who supports your views, or one who does but happens to live a bit further away?

    3. Need more info on how the system works? Check out the Citizens' Assembly website which has tons of fact sheets and other info:
    There's also lots of videos floating around…

    check out:
    http://www.bcstv.tv http://www.fairvote.org/?page=1700

  7. Campbell set the talking points for the so called citizen’s assembly. And let’s be really honest here, those people were steered towards one system of so called proportional representation. STV DOES NOT enhance local representation, based on geographic and population weighting, new westminster would in all liklihood not have a representative as burnaby is substantially larger in population. Currently the city enjoys a representative provincially with 60,000 residents. Make it STV and join it with Burnaby’s population, and New West would get relatively wiped out in terms of local representation. Funny that I belong to the party that got the short end of the stick in 2001, and yet am against changing the electoral system.

    Its straight politics. The Greens push proportional (particularly Matthew Laird, who’s jumped political parties more times than the easter bunny jumps around delivering eggs) because they can’t break through. The NDP back in the day federally and provincially had a hard time breaking through and no one was going around back then saying how unfair it was. Changing our electoral system to something that removes guaranteed local representation in New Westminster and turns it into a 5 year crap shoot is wrong.

    In terms of MLA’s and their views, and this goes for elected representatives as well, anyone who is ideological (see Joyce Murray) generally doesn’t last more than a term in office. People that are successful representatives at all level of politics are the ones that do the best work for their constituents, who’s offices work to solve their citizen’s problems in their dealings with government and accessing programs etc. For example, you can’t discount the Chamber of Commerce’s views or anyone’s views for that fact when tackling an issue.

    The good politicians are the consensus builders, not the winners vs losers mentality. Changing our electoral system because your candidate can’t win, is not the way to do it. An analogy would be, just because you can’t score a goal in hockey, no one comes along and widens the net 10 ft. and takes out the goalie. See you Wednesday

  8. Dave Lundy said “Campbell set the talking points for the so called citizen’s assembly.” This is a serious misrepresentation.
    Firstly, there were no ‘talking points’ set by anyone. The legislature unanimously set the mandate of the Citizens’ Assembly, which was to assess models of electing MLAs and make a recommendation whether the current model should be retained or another model should be adopted. As part of the process they were instructed to consult with British Columbians. (see p.14 of the Final Report for a fuller description)
    Secondly, the language “so-called citizens’ assembly” indicates to me that he has no respect for the Assembly, ie no respect for 160 of his fellow randomly-selected citizens. It is hard to imagine a more legitimate method of designing an essential element of our democracy than to let the citizens decide. I have the highest regard for them; in fact they are my heros.

    I quote Mr Lundy again “those people were steered towards one system of so called proportional representation.”. This is also a serious misrepresentation. They were not steered by anyone. In fact they were initially in favour of MMP but as they deliberated and realized what STV would provide they became convinced that STV was the best system for BC; the main course of this change occurred during the summer recess during which they were not assembled, but were communicating electronically.

    I, for one, have an MLA who does not support my point of view in Victoria. He fundamentally disagrees with me. I would really like to have a choice of MLAs and pick the one I perceive most sympathetic to my concerns. If this can be done by telephone or electronically that is fine; if necessary I could go the extra distance to meet him or her; that would be better than doing nothing as at present.

    New Westminster may be a separate entity but when I go there I do not notice the border, the people are the same on both sides, and the important issues that are the topic of legislation are the same on both sides. If you ask where the MLAs will set up there offices under BC-STV it is likely, but not guaranteed, that one will be in New Westminster, and it will likely be the MLA who has received the most votes from New Westminster residents. This MLA will recognize where his or her support is and try to keep it.

    Mr Lundy and I agree that “the good politicians are the consensus builders”. This is precisely what BC-STV will promote when no party has a majority of its own. In his 1999 book “Pattern of Democracy” the well-recognized political scientist Arendt Lijphart shows that consensus democracies outperform majoritarian ones (like we have now) in a range of measures of the quality of the democracy. Our present system does not work this way.

  9. I still hold to my argument that when it comes to cities like New Westminster with small populations being lumped in with huge cities like Burnaby, that New Westminster will lose its assured seat in the legislature for a gamble based on population and numerical demographics. That above anything else, makes STV a no go, as it removes our city’s (and others throughout the province) of their seat and ASSURED representation in the legislature.

    And if STV is so great a system, why have not other jurisdictions throughout Canada and the US adopted it? The comment about the legislature setting the agenda for the Citizens Assembly is interesting. Wasn’t that the Legislative Assembly that was dominated by the BC Liberals 77 to 2? And in terms of representation to the citizen’s assembly… the MLA’s selected citizens from their riding, there was no randomness to the selection process if I recall. So if the Liberals held a 77 to 2 edge in the Legislature, and therefore nominated the majority of members of the citizens assembly…. wouldn’t it therefore be logical to assume that the BC Liberals held a huge sway in the formation of the citizens assembly?

    Our present system actually does work, should the citizens choose to participate in the process, hold people to account, and participate in the political process. Unfortunately people have had a cynicism ingrained into society against politics and by extension public service. And that cynicism isn’t helped by the current rampant hypocrisy of the current government when it comes to accountability and transparency.

    People take our democracy for granted. STV plays right into that, giving those people who don’t participate in the electoral process credit for not taking part and throwing away the right to vote, the right people have fought for and died for over history, so that we could have that right, and treat it with such cynicism and distain.

    Its not the current electoral system that is broken. Its the fact that there is so much cynicism, neglect and denial of our elected representatives and politics in general by the media, the powers that be, and also by the far right, the same far right that thinks that government has no role in society. Seeds sown 10 and 15 years ago by the far right are now taking effect on Canadian Society.

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