A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The BC Referendum

My blogging partner Monique, for whom this is not just an academic exercise but a real and important choice to be made on May 12th , says she is much too passionate on this issue to blog objectively about it. Whilst I do feel that change is most defiantly needed in the manner in which we are represented I am not certain that changes to the way we elect our MLA/MPPs (or MPs) will have an enormous effect. However even as one of those who is becoming an ever increasing minority (the rural resident) I still believe in proportionality and thus basically support any move towards that goal and did in fact vote for the (failed) MMP proposal in Ontario. That is not however the choice in BC, there the Citizens Assembly chose STV as the alternative.

It is perhaps as much about the rejection of the current system and the results it has produced as a great enthusiasm about the proposed new voting method; more an effort to reign in the excesses of our political partys and make them more accountable than simply an effort to inject more proportionality into the results.

The process is perhaps just as important as the result. That the proposal has been arrived at democratically by a coalition of citizens largely unencumbered by political pressures and that the citizens at large then vote to accept or reject their recommendations is not only commendable but necessary. Some have said that the threshold for adoption of 60% of the total votes in BC AND 50% of the votes in 51 of the 85 districts is overly high and that it should be 51% across the board. However when it passes, as all indications indicate that it will, there will be no room for doubt that not only a majority have decided but an overwhelming majority want change.

When considering your choice it is important to realise that there are strong views on both sides and much spin and misinformation out there. Two such arguments are the comparison with the Irish system and the contention that STV will cure all ills. Neither is necessarily true; as in all proportional voting systems it is the details that are important. The proposed system is not the same as the Irish system in the counting and seat distribution methods; how can a system from such a relatively small country be compared with such a large province such as BC? There is little comparison - do not be mislead. Should STV become the method of choice for electing your MLA do not expect it to make them more honest, less partisan, or even more accountable. There may be some small movement towards these things by the proportional nature of the results and the availability of more than one MLA to contact for your area and perhaps the inclusion of one or more of the minority partys. However these are the same politicians and it’s a bit like expecting a tiger to loose his stripes overnight - it may happen but it will probably take a long time and depends upon the environment they find themselves in.

Many people have said that even after studying the method of selecting the MLA's they still don't fully understand the math (my blog partner found it took about an hour of her time to understand it - possibly more time than most people will give themselves). This is however not that important so long as they have faith that it is free of the possibility of manipulation and that the result will more closely reflect the electorates wishes. All you really have to understand is that you can if you wish rate all the candidates in order of choice (1st choice, 2nd choice etc) and that such 2nd, 3rd or more choices will have an impact upon that candidates chances of being elected. You may also chose not to rate a candidate which would have the effect of reducing his or her chances of being elected. This may in fact have more impact than a low rating; it's sort of like a "none of the above" vote.

I will not even try to present the pro and cons of the two systems; there are many others who have done that from their individual perspectives, but for the most part it is all opinion. I can and will put a few questions before you that you may wish to consider when trying to decide upon you preference.

How do you believe that the larger ridings will affect the urban verses rural vote?

Will the availability of several MLA's representing you improve your chance of receiving better representation?

How will the number of candidates fielded from each party affect the outcome if at all?

Will those parties with the ability to cover the larger ridings with “advertising” have an advantage over smaller partys or individuals?

Will a ballot with 10, 20 or possibly more names totally confuse some voters or will they simply rate those they know of?

Will the proportionality negate any of the above concerns and more properly represent the peoples wishes?

Will there be a need for MLA's to establish satellite offices in more distant communities or will modern communications render that unnecessary?

How will the major parties spin, twist and manipulate the system to their advantage or is that not possible?

Each of you who must make this choice must make it upon the facts and upon how you think it will work for you in your district, not upon the opinions of those with a vested interest in the outcome. Difficult to do, but as probably one of the most important decisions made in years in regard to the future of governance not only in BC but with a impact on future possibilities across the country, it is one that must be made from a position of knowledge.

Please do not forget that this time around you must also elect your representatives under the existing system and even if you are not optimistic that the results will reflect the true wishes of the electorate, you must never the less protect the democratic process by voting for the best available candidate in your area. Remember these are the folks who will actually implement and pass into law any new system if it passes the threshold in the referendum.

“Democracy demands vigilance, and a willingness to pose difficult questions and to take risks. I do not mean by that only taking to the streets to complain about what is wrong, but also advocating constructive alternatives.” David Kilgore
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1 comment:

Monique said...

Thanks Rural. This issue is hard for me to write about, because I have so much hope that it will really create more accountability and feel certain that it is far more democratic - but I become almost paralyzed with fear that it won't pass a second time, and thus our opportunity to be represented will die for......who knows how long. Currently in BC we are under the control of a dictator who is selling us out at a fast and furious pace. I'm hoping that getting STV in will make it impossible for any party to ever get that much control again. We have often had these dictator-type majorities in this province and they have all (no matter what party it is) done a great deal of damage. BC currently ranks #1 in Canada for the highest wage gap between the filthy rich and the struggling poor. Our rivers have been sold to private interests, our rail system was sold to private interests, our parks have been devastated - you name it. BC is being raped, much like I think Ontario was under Harris (at least, according to the little bit I have read), right before our eyes.