New voting reform debate one landslide away

A NDP landslide provincial election victory could lead to electorial reform in B.C.

It’s impossible to keep a good idea down for long, and a looming NDP landslide in the next provincial election may put electoral reform back on British Columbia’s political radar.

With the NDP more than 20 points ahead in most polls and the rest of the vote split between the B.C. Liberals and BC Conservatives, some pundits are predicting the NDP could take as many as 81 of 85 MLA seats in the May election.

That would mean Adrian Dix could turn 46 per cent voter support into 95 per cent of the seats in the legislature.

Another pundit thinks the NDP will take 69 seats – turning 46 per cent NDP support into 81 per cent of the seats. Forum Research pegs NDP support at 45 per cent, but predicts Dix’s party would take 80 per cent of the seats.

Many casual observers would say such disconnect between the number of votes and seats is unfair, but this is becoming a recurring phenomenon in B.C.

The way British Columbians elect MLAs was a hot topic of debate after the 2001 B.C. Liberal landslide, which saw a 58 per cent vote count turn into 97 per cent of the seats in the legislature.

Conversely, in 1996, the NDP turned 39 per cent of the vote into a majority government of 52 per cent of MLA seats, despite more people having voted for the opposition B.C. Liberals – 42 per cent.

These results sparked a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, a recommended new voting system and a referendum that came within two percentage points of reaching the 60 per cent threshold needed to change the system in 2005. That Single Transferable Vote (STV) idea was rejigged and soundly beaten in 2009, as voters felt the new system was too complicated.

Despite the rejection of the complicated STV system, preferential ballots have returned to B.C. (they were a fixture in the 1950s) and were most recently used for the B.C. Liberal leadership process. Voters ranked their choices and as last-place candidates dropped off the ballot, those voters’ second choices were counted until Christy Clark finally had the majority she needed.

A similar preferential ballot system in B.C. would eliminate complaints about B.C. Liberal-Conservative (and NDP-Green) vote splitting, as voters would be able to rank candidates, knowing a winner wouldn’t be declared until someone hit that 50 per cent plus one mark.

Recently, two champions for a fairer voting system were honoured with Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medals for their contributions to Canadian democracy.

Author and public policy expert Gordon Gibson was the individual who put together the mandate and mechanics for the Citizens’ Assembly. Fair Voting B.C. co-founder Nick Loenen’s book, Citizenship and Democracy: A Case for Proportional Representation, has become a foundational text for any Canadian wanting to change the way MPs and MLAs are elected.

Gibson and Loenen received medals at the same ceremony, and both spoke of the need to change the current electoral system.

A change to preferential ballots – allowing voters to simply rank the candidates running in their community – would be a good start to fixing that.

Jordan Bateman is the British Columbia director or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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