July 1, 2002
The Democrat – Vol. 42, No. 2
With a system which under-represents minorities and ensures that the right-wing vote will never split again, right-wing ideologues could continue running this province as a private feifdom.
In less than a year, the BC Liberal government will unveil a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. This assembly has been part of the party’s plan since 1997 when Gordon Campbell pulled his party out of the BC Electoral Change Coalition, a broad-based multi-partisan voting reform group.
Since then, Campbell has advocated and assembly to look at possible changes to BC’s voting system. His New Era document included it and it was announced again when he swore-in his new cabinet after winning the 2001 election and put Attorney-General Geoff Plant in charge of it. The Assembly has survived the government’s core review process and will be, according to the most recent announcements, set up for the spring of 2003.
It is against this backdrop that the Green Party’s Free Your Vote campaign is taking place, though you will hear little from FYV activists about the assembly or about Joy MacPhail’s letter to Campbell asking for its timeline to be accelerated so that the next provincial election could be fought under new rules.
Unfortunately, the timeline for the assembly is just one of the many concerns New Democrats should have about the Citizens’ Assembly. A key concern, so far unaddressed by anyone except our leader, is who will comprise the Assembly.
Campbell has some ideas which are not likely to sit well with anyone who understands the vast diversity of our province or the complexity of voting systems. The New Era document proposes to select the members of the assembly randomly — the same way a jury is selected. This means that there will be no guarantee that aboriginal people, visible minorities, northerners, islanders or any other identifiable groups in BC will be part of this body. There is also no guarantee that there will be any experts who have actual information about or experience with voting systems and their functioning.
Consistent with his policies on healthcare and other services, Campbell doesn’t seem to think that we need any special mechanisms to ensure that remote communities, aboriginal people and other oft-forgotten groups are not left behind.
And unfortunately, the Free Your Vote initiative is strengthening the premier’s position. Thousands of voters are signing on to support a process for electoral reform in which minorities and remote communities have been completely shut-out. It is hard to challenge the Campbell’s vision of the Citizens’ Assembly when purportedly progressive activists are signing their names to support a law that proposes to end all citizen consultation on how our electoral boundaries and voting systems are designed.
FYV is also serving the BC Liberal agenda in another way. By promoting a form of proportional representation offensive to rural British Columbians, it is effectively raising the popularity of other alternatives to the current system.
According to the New Era, the Assembly will not only be charged with looking at proportional representation, it will also look at Alternative Vote. New Democrats may recall that the CCF would have formed government in 1952 were it not for AV. AV is the only voting system which produces even less proportional results than our current First-Past-the-Post system; it is a true winner take all model.
Under AV, voters rank candidates in order of preference; candidates with fewer votes are eliminated and their votes transferred to the voters’ next choice. It is essentially the same as a leadership convention in which the bottom candidates are eliminated until the top-scoring candidate has a clear majority. Applied province-wide, such a system would perpetuate the current situation of a massive majority government and a tiny opposition, even in relatively close elections.
Amongst Liberal MLAs, AV is much more popular than proportional representation. And for good reason. With a system which under-represents minorities and ensures that the right-wing vote will never split again, right-wing ideologues could continue running this province as a private feifdom. Especially because, unlike pro-rep, AV does not increase voter turnout amongst low income people and minorities.
Along with AV, the Liberals will likely soon resurrect their 1996 plan to slash the number of provincial ridings drastically. After trashing rural communities, the government would benefit by downsizing rural representation and creating huge, unweildy districts in which grassroots campaigning would be much more difficult. Fortunately for the Liberals, Adriane Carr is hard at work creating a mandate for massive downsizing of rural representation, too.
Instead of being distracted by the simplistic boosterism of the Free Your Vote campaign, New Democrats need to stay focused on fighting the Liberal agenda. And addressing the real approaching threat to our democracy. We need to work with the groups and individuals the government is planning to shut out of the Citizens’ Assembly to strengthen their voices and prevent that exclusion. We need to educate people about the dangers of Alternative Vote and legislative downsizing. And we need to fight for a process of electoral reform that reflects our values of equity, diversity and inclusiveness.
WHAT SIGNING THE FREE YOUR VOTE PETITION REALLY MEANS
When you sign the Free Your Vote petition, you are signing in favour of:
- reducing the number of seats guaranteed to voters outside Greater Vancouver from 47% to 24% of the legislature
- reducing the number of MLAs by 15%
- reducing the number of provincial ridings from 79 to 34
- giving up provincial control over our riding boundaries and putting the federal government in charge of them.
- making it impossible to recall 50% of MLAsFor more information, check out the web site of Bernard Von Schulmann at www.bcprorep.com.
IS OUR LEGISLATURE TOO BIG?
The Liberals and Green Party think BC has too many MLAs but a comparison to other western provinces suggests the opposite…
- Saskatchewan has 1 riding per 17,000 people;
- Manitoba has 1 riding per 20,000 people;
- Alberta has 1 riding per 36,000 people;
- BC currently has 1 riding per 50,000 people.
- BC under Gordon Campbell’s 1996 proposal would have 1 riding per 80,000 people.
- BC under Adriane Carr’s proposal would have 1 riding per 115,000 people (or 1 MLA per 57,000 people)