B.C. electoral reformer pitches STV to feds

Ranked ballots called less radical than proportional representation, Trudeau urged to commit to referendum

A Single Transferrable Vote ballot lets a voter choose multiple candidates as their first

A Single Transferrable Vote ballot lets a voter choose multiple candidates as their first

Incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed Canadians will never again elect a federal government with the first-past-the-post system.

Opponents of the status quo say it’s unfair to smaller parties like the Greens, who end up with far fewer seats than their share of the popular vote.

If Trudeau is serious about his promise to deliver electoral reform within 18 months, B.C. lawyer Bruce Hallsor has some advice: Consider the Single Transferrable Vote (STV). That’s the ranked ballot system B.C. nearly adopted when it first went to referendum in 2005, falling just short of the 60 per cent threshold to pass.

WATCH: Videos show how voting alternatives work

Voters rank their preferred candidates by priority, and their second, third and fourth choices can help more than one candidate get elected.

Hallsor co-chaired the Yes referendum campaigns on STV in both 2005 and 2009 (when it failed by wider margin) and remains a defender of the system.

He pitches it as a less radical option for change that would deliver many of the advantages of pure proportional representation but with fewer negatives.

“I think you would find an STV system gives better proportionality among the existing parties but wouldn’t add a lot of new parties to Parliament,” Hallsor said.

That’s one of the knocks against pure proportional representation, where seats are handed out in exact proportion to the popular vote.

Right now, many don’t vote for fringe parties because their candidates have almost no chance. Proportional representation (PR) would change that, unleashing votes back from mainstream parties.

Besides more Greens in Parliament, there might be Libertarians or Christian Heritage Party MPs.

As in the pizza parliaments of Europe, where far-right nationalist parties or orthodox religious parties gain sway, we might see more seats for Quebec separatists, even a Rob Ford-led party.

The result would almost always be minority governments, haggling and horse-trading to build coalitions, and the end of stable four-year majority rule.

Hallsor said STV would still generate occasional majority governments, as well as stronger minorities than under PR.

STV would see larger ridings, each with multiple MPs.

There might be four seats each in new enlarged ridings like Victoria, Surrey and the Fraser Valley, but instead of those areas electing nearly all one party (NDP in Victoria, Liberal in Surrey or Conservative in the Valley), Hallsor said STV would tend to result in at least one more MP that’s not from the dominant party.

“You get a little more diverse representation.”

MPs ‘more beholden’ with PR

Hallsor admits a pure list-based PR system is simpler to understand.

A party that gets 12 per cent of the vote gets 12 per cent of the seats. Those 40 seats go to the top 40 candidates on the party’s list.

But PR leaves big question marks over who has a duty to represent voters in a given community. Detractors fear vast areas might go unrepresented.

It also concentrates more power in the hands of party insiders who decide which candidates will go on the party’s list and in what order.

Complaints about MPs who parrot the party line, rather than voting according to local wishes, would multiply under PR, Hallsor predicts.

“The reason you got elected is because you were placed high on the list,” he said. “So the MPs become even more beholden to their party leaders than they are now. Because they don’t have any pretence to represent any region or any small group of voters.”

He argues STV would make MPs more responsive to local voters and more likely to act independently.

“It’s not good enough for the party bosses to nominate you,” Hallsor said, noting STV forces candidates to compete against rivals in their own party and lets voters sift out the duds.

He gives the example of Victoria, where one seat of four available under STV would likely go Conservative, in addition to perhaps two for the NDP and one Green.

“If there’s only going to be one Conservative elected in Victoria – and there’s four Conservative candidates – you need to be the Conservative candidate that’s more connected with the voters than the others,” he said.

Voters strongly aligned with one party can vote for all four of its candidates, or devote choices to a strong candidate from another party, or even to independents, who have no place in PR’s party list system.

Having multiple MPs in a riding from a more representative mix of parties would offer citizens more choice when they need help.

“I can try to talk to them all or I can decide ‘This is the one that cares about this issue or that I connect with,'” Hallsor said. “So, as a voter, you don’t have to feel disenfranchised because you’re an NDPer living in a Conservative riding.”

A PR variant called mixed member proportional would see voters mark their ballot both for a local candidate conventionally as well as for a party, with some seats doled out according to party lists to deliver a more proportional result.

Hallsor calls that an improvement from pure PR, but he said it’s unclear how either version could meet constitutional requirements that guarantee each province and territory a set number of MPs.

Will Liberals get cold feet?

Will the Trudeau Liberals lose their appetite for reform now that they’ve won a majority with less than 40 per cent of the vote, an outcome that would never be repeated under a different system?

Hallsor isn’t holding his breath.

But if they press forward, he recommends a referendum be held to get voter consent to whichever system is unveiled.

“I don’t think it’s good enough for Parliament just to pass a bill and say ‘Here’s our new system.’ People inherently and for good reason distrust a bunch of politicians writing their own rules for how they get elected.”

Trudeau has promised that an all-party committee will study the options but has not committed to a referendum.

David Schreck, who co-chaired the No campaign against STV in B.C., also thinks government MPs’ may waver.

“A third of them wouldn’t be there if not for first-past-the-post,” he noted.

Schreck predicts Canadians would reject any specific proposal – once they see the details and hear the dueling arguments – as too distasteful or confusing, if it gets put to them.

“The surest way to sandbag it and get out from having to implement his promise is to put it to a referendum.”

 

SEATS EACH PARTY WON OCT. 19Liberals – 184Conservatives – 99NDP – 44Bloc Quebecois – 10Greens – 1

IF DISTRIBUTED BY POPULAR VOTE %Liberals – 134Conservatives – 108NDP – 67Bloc Quebecois – 17Greens – 12

Just Posted

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Nanaimo residents on edge of city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Nanaimo artist Dave Stevens is displaying paintings inspired by arbutus trees and the Millstone River at Nanaimo Harbourfront Library from now until the end of fall. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo writer and artist’s work goes up at Harbourfront library

Dave Stevens presents work inspired by arbutus trees and the Millstone River

The courthouse in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo man, already in jail, found guilty of sexual abuse of sons

Man previously sentenced for sexual interference involving girl in Nanaimo

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps near Nanaimo

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Stuffed toys, many with donations pinned to them, are piled in the Lions Pavilion at Maffeo Sutton Park at a vigil May 31 honouring the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were discovered outside a residential school in Kamloops. (News Bulletin file photo)
Thousands donated to child and family service agency following Nanaimo vigil

Toys and money donated to Kw’umut Lelum child and family services

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps near Nanaimo

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

Terry Mazzei next to a truck after it was struck by lightning, with him inside, on Wednesday afternoon, June 9. He walked away from the incident without injury and the truck sustained only mild damage; a blown front tire and newly broken gas gauge. (Wendy Mazzei photo)
Vancouver Island man walks away unscathed after lightning strike

VIDEO: ‘We like to think that his dad was watching over him’

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Small town residents Reed and Dusty, played by drama students Niya Irving and Cole Simpson, contemplate what brought them to a condemned park and what is keeping them there in the Dover Bay Secondary School production of ‘Bethel Park Falls.’ (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
High school drama students present outdoor performance at Nanaimo’s Dover Bay

Production to be staged in school courtyard with in-person audience

Police in Nanaimo hope the public can help find Sarah Duguay so investigators can check on her well-being. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP trying to find woman who called police for help but hasn’t been located

Sarah Duguay, 40, not reported missing, but police want to check on her well-being

Beef to the pet owner who brought his puppy into the cold beer and wine store, where it promptly peed on another customer’s ankle.
Beefs & Bouquets, June 9

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail editor@nanaimobulletin.com

Most Read