Taking the plunge into community involvement

This is a guest post by New West resident Paul Goodrick. You can find him on Twitter as @duckbeaver and on his blog at duckbeaver.com

Since moving to New Westminster over a year ago, I’ve really been keen on becoming more active in the community but it always seemed one thing or another confounded my attempts. So when a notice showed up on my building’s door announcing an upcoming meeting for the New Westminster Downtown Residents Association, I took the plunge.

Showing up just as things were getting set up, I was able to quickly register. A short form, $5 annual dues and I was a member! After some quick procedural business, guest speakers took to the floor and talked about some issues, both local and regional.

Jayne Petula, Film Coordinator for the City of New Westminster gave a brief talk on filming happening in the downtown area. She also outlined efforts to promote shooting in all parts of the city, an important piece of the local economy. A couple concerns were raised, such as the impact of crews filming all night on Columbia and access to businesses. Jayne was happy to answer questions around the rules the city has in place to balance the needs of film crews with those of local businesses and residents. Meeting chair Andrew Boyd noted that relations between locals and studios had been good under both Jayne and her predecessor.

Next up was Travis Johnson of the Vancouver Circus School, the circus school located in the Quayside River Market. Travis shared they currently had a short term lease while the Quay was undergoing renovations but hoped to sign a long term lease soon, and were very committed to New Westminster. He talked a little about the recreational programs the school offered and their growing outreach with local schools. Nigel Wakita, Canada’s reigning National Yo Yo champion (and educational coordinator of the VCS) gave a demonstration – quite the unexpected surprise on my civic adventure!

Reena Meijer Drees, (who recently wrote her own guest post on Tenth to the Fraser) was there to talk about electoral reform and STV. Downtown residents seemed to have a good understanding of the issue and Reena fielded several insightful questions during a pretty engaging discussion.

Some committee reports were given, adding to my understanding of some local issues, including:

  • Homelessness Coalition,
  • Traffic Advisory,
  • Community Policing,
  • and Farmers’ Market.

I’ll definitely be at the next meeting and even volunteered to help out with the annual community barbecue happening at the end of July. Andrew mentioned they were always open to having more people come down and get involved and I’ll be sure to mention the association to my New West friends.

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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.