crazy sign time / election time

the legislature -- alternatively, the house of evilTomorrow, Gordon Campbell will venture through suburban Victoria to Government House, a lovely plot of land with a garden, and will recommend to the Lieutenant-Governor that the legislative assembly be disolved and writs of election be issued for the province.

The most immediate impact to you and me? Tons and tons of signs will soon occupy every conceivable green space in your local neighbourhood, covered in bright colours, and you may well have people going door to door telling you that you should vote a certain way.  Television channels will be overrun with commercials telling you that Gordon Campbell wants to kill your grandmother, or that the NDP are so inept with finances that they couldn’t be trusted to run a popsicle stand.

Electoral politics is lovely.  I’m not actually going to wade, too deep, into the BC NDP/BC Liberal election fight, other than to simply state that I don’t think that re-electing Gordon Campbell and his merry band of neoliberal buccaneers would be the best thing that the electorate could do.  There are a number of reasons for this, of course.  At the same time, I don’t immediately believe that an election of the provincial incarnation of the NDP will lead immediately to sunshine, rainbows, lollipops, and unicorns.  No, it certainly won’t, but the Liberals are certainly not the best choice of a route to such promised lands anyways.

I will, of course, get to the prognostication on the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics in a few paragraphs, but there is actually something important that is being voted on — that is, the proposal to change the electoral system that we use to translate the single ‘x’ that you place on a ballot next to the name of the least offensive candidate to another system entirely.

This is important, and I hope you take the time to educate yourselves on the BC-STV proposal, and then vote in favour of it. Jasmin wrote an excellent note earlier about the BC-STV proposal, and indicated in it the philosophical problems that people who are of a more anarchic bent (myself included, perchance)  have when it comes to voting in the governmental elections (I think Subcommandante Marcos said it best when he explained that voting “simply legitimises a system premied upon exclusion”) but there are several reasons why you should actually take the time to understand what’s going on.

So let’s all learn a little bit.  Right now, we have an electoral system called ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) or ‘single member plurality.’ Currently, you mark an ‘X’ next to the name of the candidate that you’ve decided to vote for, or, in my case, find least offensive.  Then the votes are all counted and the person who receives the most votes, not necessarily a majority, wins the one and only seat up for grabs in your riding.  Theoretically, this could (and often has, in practice) mean that the person designated the ‘winner’ in your riding could actually have received less than a majority of the votes.  In cases like this, I would argue that the system has failed; the majority of people are not represented (politically) by the ‘representative’ elected.

This is why a new electoral system was discussed by a Citizen’s Assembly, and why the proposal to change voting systems to something called the British Columbia Single Transferable Vote (hence BC-STV) was proposed.  In 2005, the proposal won 58% of the vote in the province, and a majority in all but 2 of the 79 ridings, but was not implemented because a 60% threshold was imposed. (there’s a side argument here about a minority of voters ensuring that a minority of voters are actualy represented, but back to the main fare).

BC-STV is different than FPTP in that you don’t just mark a single ‘X’ next to your preferred/least odious candidate.  Instead, there’s a list of candidates, and you get to rank them, as in you write down a 1, 2, 3 next to the candidates in the order that you would prefer.  This allows you to mark a first choice, and a second choice, and so on.  Ridings are also no longer represented by a single member — they’re bigger, and have multiple members.  When the elections are run and votes are counted, there’s a bit of math involved, but your vote can be counted for the person that you voted for but also for your second choice and so on, providing a bit more ‘proportionality’ in the system.

Proportionality is important.  Given that there’s every possibility that an MLA could be elected without a majority of support in a riding, there’s every possibility that a government could be elected without a majority of support in the province, country, etc.  And it happens.  It happened to the NDP in 1996, where they won the most seats with fewer votes, and it’s happening right now federally with a Conservative government that only 36% or something of Canadians voted for. BC-STV aims to change that a bit, bringing in other parties to the legislature.  You may well see that when the referendum is passed, we could have Green Party MLAs and the like in the next round of voting. An additional benefit is that the seats are supposed to roughly correspond to the parties’ votes — ie, if Party A gets 30% of the votes in the election, they ought to get about 30% of the seats.

This has the potential of opening the system up to more parties that could be peoples’ second choices, and may allow a viable ‘alternative’ to the BC Liberals and NDP to form.  And that means that the system could change, ever so slightly, from one premised on exclusion to one that is at least less biased against inclusion.  Which is why we all should vote in favour of it.

Of course, there are also a number of other important things going on in the election.  The election is a chance for us to de-elect Gordon Campbell and his BC Liberal party, who are hell-bent on privatizing every aspect of the social institutions that we cherish and destroying everything else by subjugating them to the “invisible hand” of the market.

In countless surveys, people are asked what social services they appreciate and value.  They generally respond with “health care” and “education.”  One would think that protecting, promoting, and supporting these cherished social institutions would be a good way to get elected or stay elected.  However, Campbell and his thugs have decided that slowly killing these services is the best way to run the province.

As they legislate a requirement for BC Hydro to purchase new power from ‘independent’ (read: private) sources, they privatize the rivers from which power is generated.  As they decrease funding to universities and colleges and schools, they privatize education.  As they actively undermine the Canada Health Act, which Canadians demanded and which creates the semi-socialised helath care system, they privatize health care.

They must be stopped.

If you know me well, you know that when we get drunk and when we start talking politics, I point to education as the root of my political philosophy.  This is because education is transformative – it changes people.  Every serious university student I know jokingly or half-seriously complains about education and learning things they’d rather not know.  At university, we learn about oppression, atrocities, manipulation, hegemonies — all things, honestly, that would make life easier if we didn’t know them.

But at the same time, education makes us ask “how” and “why.”  Instead of simply watching television reports about the Somalian ‘pirates’ and getting angry, we should be asking  how the pirates got there and why they are doing what they are doing.  We should be asking about the fact that Somalia is a failed state, about the history of colonialism that led to that failure; we should be asking about the nuclear waste being dumped off of Somalia’s shores and the fact that the first ‘pirates’ in the country were a self-described ‘voluntary coast guard.’

Education is what enables us to break free of our chains and ask these questions, and education is also what enables us to understand that there is an alternative.  Education teaches us theory, and education teaches us practice.  And praxis — when we put theory in to action — is entirely possible.

So education is important.  But the BC Liberals are in the process of destroying education at the post-secondary level as they decrease funding, as they set higher enrolment targets, and expect universities to do more with less.  Universities are left scrambling, orienting themselves to markets, and losing sight of the public trust that we, as a society, have entrusted them with — the trust that they will teach us to ask how and why.

This needs to be stopped.

The easiest way to stop this is to not mark an ‘x’ next to the BC Liberal candidate in your riding.  Consider them to be the most offensive candidate, and choose elsewhere.  Because of FPTP, you’ll likely need to choose a least offensive candidate — and in most ridings, this is the NDP.  I don’t think that they’re a magical solution — indeed, they’re not exactly an overtly socialist party, or even timidly social democratic most of the time — but they are potentially the least offensive option.

And remember to vote ‘yes’ to the BC-STV proposal, so that we may be able, in the future, to rank our preferred candidates over the least offensive.


Additionally, some links:

3 Comments crazy sign time / election time

  1. Richard Lung

    STV allows the voters to order their favorite candidates from a good
    choice in multi-member constituencies. Even if you just favor one
    party, you still may have a choice of more than one candidate, from the same party, to prefer.
    This allows some freedom from the party manifestos that are usually job lots of policies, which oblige you to support things you dont want for things you do want.

    STV gets round this dilemma by allowing you to prefer the candidates
    nearest your own views, whatever their party. All the candidates have
    an equal chance of election because they all have to win an elective
    proportion of the votes in a multi-member constituency. And votes are
    not wasted because they are transferable, if and when your more
    prefered candidates already have enough votes to be elected.

    In all, STV gives a more representative parliament than any other
    voting system. It may truly be called the democratic voting system.

    Richard Lung, Democracy Science.


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