Monday, May 18, 2009

Good-bye BC-STV; we never even knew you

Well, that was a huge disappointment. On May 12th, British Columbians voted overwhelmingly (61%) to keep the status quo, essentially reversing the results of the last referendum.

So what went wrong? Well, credit to the No side in running a very effective fear and misinformation campaign. It was clear that their goal from the outset was to raise fear and confusion in the people and their messaging of “Too complicated” and “Enormous ridings” went a long way.

But that was only part of it. I was listening to CKNW the day after and Bill Good was interviewing Dr. Dennis Pilon, a political scientist at UVIC. He pointed out, basically summarizing Dr. Fred Cutler’s (UBC) research findings, that a lot of people didn’t understand BC-STV the last time; but voted yes because there was a lot of press given to the Citizen’s Assembly (CA) and the good will that it generated was enough for people to put their trust in the recommendation.

This time around, we’ll probably find that people still didn’t understand BC-STV, despite the heightened awareness, and now we also didn’t have as much attention paid to the CA. Additionally, the ballot question was worded differently so that people now had First Past the Post (FPTP) as an option to choose. So people did what came naturally when they don’t have a good understanding of an issue, they choose what’s familiar to them.

In my opinion, the multimember ridings are what eventually did us in. Making that change raised the unfamiliarity two fold as people now had to deal with the fear of larger ridings as well as trying to wrap their heads around the additional calculations needed with the Droop Quota and Weighted Transfer. It was here where the No side focused its attack. And while I understand that the CA’s mandate was to find the best system and I agree with their findings, ultimately, it was too much for the average person to swallow.

If it was me, I would have introduced Instant Run-off Voting (IRV, BC-STV with single member districts) instead. It uses the same basic concepts; but I believe they are easier to explain as it is more widely used and people are more familiar with the idea of winning with 50%+1 of the vote.

And while you don’t have the proportionality, you do get the benefits of preferential balloting which I think would have a greater impact on the political arena. And it still leaves the door open for STV further down the road.

That’s all well and good for other jurisdictions but that means squat for us as, sadly, I don’t think we’ll be seeing anymore reform measures in my lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give up the cause. If there was one thing that had become clear to me, we need to start from the bottom up.

Municipal elections are a good starting point where IRV can be introduced. Also, someone mentioned starting reform measures at the universities and colleges for their student body elections (why not high schools even?). Us young folk are generally open to trying new things so this should be much easier. This then has the added benefit of creating a generation of citizen that now has experience with electoral systems other than the God-awful FPTP.

But that’s still going to be a challenge, one that Fair Vote Canada will have to show leadership on if we are going to make any headway in this issue.

1 comment:

Brad said...

I think a good case can be made for implementing electoral reform within Vancouver and Victoria. There was higher support in those regions than there was provincially.