Sunday, December 21, 2008

Criticism #4: BC-STV will mean less accountability and representation from MLAs

This is probably the second most common criticism that I’ve encountered against the single transferable vote system (BC-STV) with critics claiming that the relationship between the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and constituent, either by geography (“huge ridings”) or neglect (MLA’s passing the buck), would somehow be irrevocably damaged.

On his website, Bill Tieleman writes:
"There will be less local representation and accountability because STV will mean much larger constituencies and MLAs will be representing far more people over a wider geographic area."
Keep in mind that the ratio of voters per MLA would actually remain the same under BC-STV as it is under our current system. Also on his website:
"Q: STV supporters say local representation is very good in Ireland under STV. What’s the difference with BC?

A: BC and Ireland are quite different geographically, with BC many times larger. However Ireland’s population is very close to BC’s 4 million people and they have 166 representatives in their parliament, called the Dail, while in BC we have just 79 MLAs in the B.C. Legislature."
Note that Mr. Tieleman indirectly acknowledges that accountability is good under STV; it’s just that it wouldn’t be in BC, according to him, because of geography.

I actually kind of addressed this in my “Criticism #3” post when I talked about riding sizes; but I’ll go over it again.

So here is a picture of what ridings would likely look like under BC-STV. Here is what federal ridings look like currently (click on BC to zoom in). Notice the striking similarity in riding size. Also note that the federal ridings are served by only one Member of Parliament (MP) whereas the provincial ridings would be served by two to seven MLAs.

So how is it that representation and accountability is ok federally but not ok provincially where you have at least doubled the number of MLA's for a given geographical area compared to MP's serving the same area? Clearly, geography is not an issue.

But how about the other argument for reduced accountability due to neglect? Former premier Dave Barrett writes (letter posted on
"importantly voters will lose accountability because they will have between two and seven MLA’s representing them in huge ridings. On every difficult issue buck passing and finger pointing would replace true representation."
So the premise is that combining ridings under BC-STV will allow for MLAs to avoid being accountable to their constituents by allowing them to pass off voters who come to them for help onto other MLAs.

This isn’t necessarily true and the reason why has to, again, do with greater voter choice.

I remember back when I was playing rugby for SFU and was undergoing physiotherapy treatments for an injury I had sustained. As often happens when you’re bored, strapped to a muscle stim machine for 20 minutes, I’d get into conversations with the physiotherapist and other patients. We were talking about politics one day and the physio recounted a story about a classmate of his in high school; let’s call him Joe.

A nice guy, they got along well enough, but not very bright, quite lazy and, well, just a little off. If you think of Steve Stifler from the “American Pie” movies or Cousin Eddie from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" then you get the idea.

Skip ahead a few years and Joe decides to go into politics and runs for the Liberal Party. Running in a “safe” riding, he easily wins election and sets off to serve as an MP in the Chretien government. How exciting.

Unfortunately, for the next two terms, Joe’s service as an MP was as uninspired as his scholastic career. Knowing that his seat was safe as it was a strong Liberal riding, Joe was content to simply go through the motions of his service: voting as dictated by the party, glad handing when politically beneficial and otherwise remaining pretty much anonymous as a backbencher. He introduced no new bills, didn’t work on any committees and if his political career could be described in a word, it would have to be “mediocre”.

The problem was that it didn’t matter what he did. If the voters wanted to vote Liberal, they would have to vote for him; they had no other option.

Now contrast that situation under BC-STV. Under BC-STV, Joe would have had to run against not only candidates for opposition parties but also against members of his own party. He can no longer coast through his terms because if he does, his disenfranchised voters, who still wished to vote Liberal, now have the option of voting for another Liberal candidate who may serve them better.

Increased choice for the voters means greater competition for the MLA which means increased accountability.

Back to Criticisms Mainpage.

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