Tomorrow, 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.