Fans of democracy will be watching next Tuesday’s B.C. election, and not just because they’re wondering if Gordon Campbell can make it a three-peat.
If you’ve ever complained your vote doesn’t count, you should be watching the results May 12 because, for the second time in four years, B.C. voters will be asked to decide if they want to count their votes differently: The Single Transferable Vote (STV) to replace the current first-past-the-post system.
No, it’s not a four-wheel drive vehicle or a sexually transmitted disease. It’s a citizen assembly’s best idea for making each vote count, and it gets points for sincerity, if not effectiveness.
The current system, universally in place at the provincial and federal level, is the blunt instrument of representation by population: The candidate with the most votes wins. Everybody else comes last.
This has come to mean we get powerful governments who can rule for years even if they’re elected by less than 50 per cent of eligible voters. And people who vote NDP and Green routinely have to be satisfied with chaining themselves to a tree in order to influence events in the capital.
STV is supposed to change all that. If it passes (it fell two per cent short of the 60 per cent required last time around) in 2013, the province will have 20 electoral districts instead of 85 ridings, with two to seven MLAs representing those districts in Victoria. Instead of marking an X on our ballots, we’ll list the candidates in order of preference.
If there aren’t enough votes to elect someone, then the candidate with the fewest number of votes will be eliminated, and fractions of the votes are distributed among the remaining candidates, based on a complicated formula requiring 12-year-old nerds with computers. (Well, they don’t have to be 12, but it helps.)
There are so many inequitable variables, it makes you yearn for the blunt simplicity of first-past-the post. The size of the districts, the populations, the number of elected representatives, the sun in Virgo — everything gets thrown in. Not to mention the only places STV now operates are Malta, Tasmania and Ireland, which would all fit comfortably into the proposed Northwest region electoral district, which is a staggering 372,000 square kilometres, so it’s completely untested in a typical Canadian context (too few people, too much tundra).
It didn’t make it last time, and it doesn’t look likely this time, which is too bad considering all the work and conviction put into it. But there are other forms of proportional representation that look promising, including mixed-member pro-rep, which was chosen in New Zealand over STV by a majority of voters.
Democracy is flawed, but precious, so let’s keep working on it. But let’s not forget what we’re messing with here: Our freedom. And it’s not just another word for nothing left to lose. At least not yet.