What’s ahead in the move away from FPTP
by Michele Murphy
The BC NDP and the BC Green Party ran their 2017 provincial election campaign on, among other planks, electoral reform – specifically proportional representation (PR). Zoom forward 2018, the BC NDP is in power with the support of the Greens and electoral reform is in the works.
In fact, PR was not just a campaign promise (because we’ve heard those before – 2001 BC Liberal campaign, and of course most recently with the federal Liberals), but it was a condition of support from the Green Party, without which, BC would have had a Green-backed BC Liberal government, or been forced back to the polls.
In the 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement between the BC New Democrats and the BC Greens the two caucuses agreed that they are both committed to PR; that they will actively work to consult British Columbians to determine a preferred form of PR; that a referendum on the preferred form of PR will take place in the fall of 2018; and that whatever form is decided upon will be enacted for the scheduled 2021 provincial general election. And most importantly, and most different from the 2005 and 2009 go at PR in BC, the government and the Green Party will actively support the YES side of the referendum.
This is the third-go-round for a form of PR in BC. In 2005 a referendum on replacing First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system with a Single Transferable Vote system (BC-STV) was defeated by a very small margin. In that attempt the government of the day was “remaining neutral”, but their imposed super-majority requirement for the referendum to be binding at 60% of the valid votes, in 60% of the electoral districts, and their less-than effective public education process were widely seen as imposed barriers to the success of the PR campaign.
Even so, the results of the 2005 referendum saw 58% of the votes saying Yes to BC-STV in 97% of the districts.
The second attempt to move to the BC-STV coincided with the 2009 provincial election. BC-STV was defeated handily in this referendum.
So is BC, just taking one more kick at the same dented can?
The short answer is no. The differences between the three campaigns are significant.
It is not a given that PR will take the form of STV again. None of the three major political parties have a history of being fans of STV. The NDP seems to prefer MMP, the Greens haven’t expressed a desire for STV, and the BC Liberal’s new leader says his party’s efforts to keep all forms of proportional representation out of the province will be no less than, “the fight of our lives,” claiming that it will create uncertainty for the investment community, negatively impacting jobs, growth and our prosperity.”
The Attorney General’s office is now creating a report that is being informed by the public engagement process that took place this winter. That report will make recommendations to Cabinet as to how to shape the referendum.
Public input at this stage consisted of both written submissions and a 24-question online survey that closed at the end of February. The survey asked questions about both the type of voting system as well as the values that each system is born out of. “I value most … Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) who focus primarily on what is best for the province as a whole” … or “the interests of their local community.” Should there be greater diversity represented in the Legislative Assembly? Should it always be clear which party of accountable for decisions made by government – even if it means that they would then need to be made by just one party? Should the voting system be easy to understand, above all else? Should the government provide funding for proponent or opponent
The government has pledged to actively campaign FOR a YES vote. In the 2005 referendum the government did not declare a side, and in the 2009, the government of the day actively campaigned against it. In this referendum process the BC BDP and the BC Greens’ Confidence and Supply Agreement specifically states that the parties agree campaign actively in support of the agreed-upon form of proportional representation.
It will be a mail-in ballot, no need to go farther than your local mailbox to vote. Ballots will be sent out in fall of this year, for a vote completed before the end of November.
The threshold for success is 50%+1 – province-wide. Unlike the two previous attempts at electoral reform, no super-threshold has been called for.
And finally, the province is currently experiencing a minority government in action – which has always been the fear-button that the No side of the argument presses. With the first full provincial budget passed until the new minority BC NDP government being met with reasonable optimism, the tone of the campaign ahead may just be more based in reality. But that is yet to be seen.
For more information on our current and possible voting systems go to How We Vote – Your Voice in BC’s Future
SVO will be posting both the Yes campaign information and No information on its Facebook Page, once the campaigns are in full-swing.