Impressions of New West candidates

Although last night’s all-candidates meeting was not billed as a debate, as an undecided voter I came away feeling there was a clear winner for New Westminster.

The Tenth to the Fraser editorial team decided this publication would not endorse a particular candidate this election, however as individuals we all have opinions and we agreed that it is fitting to share them. All are free to comment or submit a guest post sharing their POV.

I am very glad I attended the meeting because the candidates’ performance made it clear to me how I will mark my ballot on May 12. Based on her eloquence, passion and solid understanding of both local issues and the broader political context, I have decided to support Dawn Black, and to vote Yes to STV.

This was not an easy decision for me. In the meeting last night, Matthew Laird took the words out of my mouth when he said that he thought Black has done great work in Ottawa … and that he wishes she would keep on doing great work in Ottawa! It troubled me that Black chose to resign as MP only a short time after the election, triggering a byelection for already weary voters. And even more than this, I struggled with supporting an NDP candidate when I feel the party’s opposition to the carbon tax has been wrong-headed and jeapardizes my children’s future.

Yet in the end I came away convinced that Black is the strongest person to champion New West issues in Victoria. Quite simply, I trust her to do her very best to make good choices for New West and the province as a whole, and I believe she has the talent to follow through on her promise.

I would also like to commend Matt Laird on his performance. He demonstrated a good understanding of local and environmental issues and kept both Millar and Black on their toes. Those who follow local politics are likely quite familiar with his name, whether through his work with NWEP or as a candidate for council. New West is lucky to have someone with his passion for Green issues – and the courage to put himself out there again and again in order to push these issues to the forefront.

As for Carole Millar, I think she has a long way to go to become MLA material. She seemed to struggle with thinking on her feet and most of her answers were read verbatim from the BC Liberal playbook. Unlike Black and Laird she failed to illustrate how her personal story exemplifies the ideals she promotes. While for some this may not be a major failing, I want my elected representatives to be in it for passion. Public life should be a calling, not a job.

And finally, the referendum question. I said already that I will support the change to STV. I believe our current system is inequitable and demoralizing for voters. I haven’t taken much time for deep research into the world’s democracies, but thankfully the citizen’s assembly has done this for me. I have decided to trust their judgement and vote for change.

I was concerned about New West issues being drowned out in a constituency that included Burnaby, but then I remembered that we neighbours already share an MP. I have felt very well served by Peter Julian in Ottawa, and I have not seen that he favours big ol’ Burnaby in a way that compromises representation in New West. The argument that STV is too complex also doesn’t sway me. It may take more effort to understand but it is not an impossibly arcane system. I agree with the STV advocate who said that we should demand more of our electoral system than mere simplicity.

So there you have my two cents, for whatever it’s worth. I commend all our candidates for putting their names forward as leaders. May the best person win.

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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Reminder! STV Info Evening at NWPL Tomorrow Night.

In the provincial election on May 12, everyone will be asked again to vote on electoral reform. Do we want to stay with the current First Past the Post or choose Single Transferable Vote?

Find out more about the proposed reform from some of the Citizen’s Assembly members who proposed it in 2006.

New Westminster Public Library. May 5, 2009 @ 7:00 p.m.
www.bc-stv.ca/

This issue has received scant attention in this campaign, in my opinion. Use this as an opportunity to bone up on the facts. Find out more on www.bc-stv.ca/ .

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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.

New West’s Brad Ross stirs the pot

The Surrey Leader reports that New Westminster’s Brad Ross has provoked a testy bit of back-and-forth between provincial transportation minister Kevin Falcon and Delta city council. Ross commutes to Delta, facing a regular bottleneck at Highway 91 and 72 Ave.

New Westminster resident Brad Ross, who makes regular trips across the [Alex Fraser] bridge, wrote Falcon to ask if there were plans to build an overpass.

According to the minister’s written reply, the traffic lights are still there because Delta “strongly favoured an alternate and more costly configuration, and we were unable to reach agreement.”

Ross forwarded the response to Delta council last week.

There was supposed to be money for improvements to the intersection in 2003, courtesy of a federal-provincial Border Infrastructure Program.

The Falcon letter also said a full intersection was “not viable as part of the project, due to the close proximity of Burns Bog.”

Coun. Scott Hamilton scoffed at the comment.

“The minister is talking through his hat,” Hamilton said, noting the land is privately owned and not part of the bog conservancy.

“They (the program) just ran out of money.”

So there you go, if you too share Ross’ commute and wondered what the issue was at Hwy 91 and 72nd … it appears to be a political bottleneck as well as a daily traffic headache.