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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria Hospice staff Brianne Ohl, left, Angela Chalmers, right, and Sandi Ogloff, at back, show off their buttons that show a picture of them smiling. Staff has worked hard to maintain the connections with patients despite the barriers of PPE and rigid COVID-19 protocols. (Victoria Hospice Photo)
Hospice provides compassion in a time of COVID

Victoria Hospice 40th anniversary on pause during pandemic

Look for the Random Act of Kindness Day colouring contest in Black Press issues Jan. 17. Physical entries can be mailed or dropped off to local Black Press offices. A scanned or photographed entry can be emailed to info@victoriafoundation.bc.ca. Winning entries can get a $50 gift card to Bolen Books and a $100 donation to a charity of their choice from the VIctoria Foundation. (Pixabay)
Colouring contest coming for Kindness Day

Kindness Day colouring contest in partnership with Victoria Foundation

Sidney has moved the remaining parts of its public consultation phase part of the Official Community Plan online. (Black Press Media File)
Sidney moves to an ‘all online engagement’ process for OCP

Staff says OCP charrette scheduled for mid-February

(File photo)
‘Very lucky’: Two passengers, dog escape rollover crash in Saanich unscathed

Vehicle flips on Trans Canada Highway after hitting median, possibly due to ice, firefighter says

The large metal gate stolen from Muddy Valley Farm in rural Saanich on Jan. 18 reappeared less than a week later. (Muddy Valley Farm/Facebook)
Large metal gate stolen from Saanich farm makes mysterious reappearance

12-foot gate returned to Muddy Valley Farm less than a week after it was stolen

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Most Read