Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Bad Night For Electoral Reform

Last night's overwhelming rejection of STV in British Columbia has effectively killed any momentum towards some manifestation of electoral reform. Relative to the 2005 results, wherein proponents could point to majority support, just barely below the artificial threshold, this result is clear and stark. It was so bad last night, that STV only achieved 50% or higher in a handful of ridings, no matter the measure it's hard to find the future silver lining.

The last results kept the pressure on entrenched interests, almost a moral imperative given the previous support for electoral reform. That impetus has evaporated with last night's setback, any leverage for another "redo" can now be discarded. That isn't to say those committed to proportional representation will just disappear, the debate ends, only that there now exists a certain fatigue and little motivation. I actually agree with this opinion:
Political commentator David Mitchell told CBC News that the defeat of the STV measure would probably kill electoral reform for a generation, not only in British Columbia but also in the rest of Canada. Other provinces have also put forward referendums on proportional representation but none have passed.

At a certain point, the continual defeat of different PR initiatives brings unavoidable consequences. We can rehash the reasons why, some quite valid, but it's really the perception that's important. Those arguing against future referendums are now armed with more status quo ammunition and it becomes harder for proponents to force the "establishment" hand. Had the British Columbia results been closer, or at least a majority expression, then the debate would stay in the fore. I suspect what we'll see now, plenty of talk about keeping up the fight, but little political incentive to address. I think it quite fair to catergorize the British Columbia results as "devastating" to the future prospects for electoral reform, and would expand that to a nationwide sentiment. The beacon has been extinguished for all intent and purposes.


Anonymous said...

I am thoroughly disappointed at this result and recriminations will be pointed at supporters of the Liberal Party.

This result is no surprise given the politics of contentment. British Columbians wanting to give Premier Campbell a third mandate, just as the province will experience a feel good for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Who will care for the drug addicts who will be expelled to make way for this fruitless spectacle? Will we ever get a real political debate on the merits of offering prescription heroin? Not under our First Past the Post System and Campbell's Liberals.

There will be questions for Fair Vote Canada. That the most vocal supporters for STV are the underrepresented Greens and ex-Reformers such as Preston Manning and Deborah Grey means that we are giving the fringe elements their time of day. Not good in a country which seems to enjoy the politics of compromise.

Northern PoV said...

I voted for MMP (PR) in Ontario and I voted yesterday for STV as both seem to be better than our current cluster f*ck based on FPTP.

But both options were seriously flawed and unnecessarily complex.

What we need is to take some baby steps towards democratic-reform that will not spook the voters.

* Keep single member ridings
* Allow voted ranking (1st choice second choice)
* do instant runoffs (by dropping the bottom candidate and reallocating votes) whereby every winner will have 50% (or close to it)

simple decisive done

Not likely to get the chance anytime soon given the recent history of PR initiatives in Canada

Scott Tribe said...


I'm obviously disappointed that this measure failed.. but what interests me more is that BC voter nearly flipped their results from 4 years ago for the exact same model (unless this version of STV was different from the previous model).

I agree in part with what Northern POV says about complexity and so on.. I discussed over my way this AM what might have to be done next if folks want electoral reform.. and it too involves going more piecemeal.

Steve V said...

"but what interests me more is that BC voter nearly flipped their results from 4 years ago for the exact same model "

Maybe it speaks to the fact that the more informed, the less support. There did seem to be a sense that people understood the concept, the debate was very high profile, so this flip is probably more concerning in that light.

As to your post, I agree with most, except for maybe this casual relationship you put forth, between voter turnout and the system at hand. I'm not sure diminishing turnout has anything to do with a statement on our FPTP system, or that a new system would really address the trend. If you look at the last American election, you see that people will come out if they see politicians which inspire or motivate. I think it more a question of the quality of the debate, rather than an indictment of the system within.

saskboy said...

The notion that BC is destined to lead the country on electoral reform was perhaps a foolish one. Clearly what they do as a province may have little bearing on what the other 9 provinces choose to do with electoral reform. We've simply lost approximately 1 in 11 fights for several years.

Steve V said...

"Clearly what they do as a province may have little bearing on what the other 9 provinces choose to do with electoral reform."

I might be wrong, but I think this type of defeat has tenticles outside of British Columbia. Fact is, all reform attempts have "failed" throughout the country, which makes it harder to keep making the case moving forward.

Anonymous said...

I don't know quite how to feel about the electoral reform vote here last night. I was all for the idea of STV when I first heard about it, not having lived here during the last election with it on the ballot. Was the form last night exactly the same as last time or was it tweaked in some fashion - can anyone here answer that with certainty? I also found the arguments against it ridiculous because the buffoon argument (in my humble opinion) was that anarchy and paralysis would result. As a gut reaction, I tend to reject the
"life as we know it will die" argument in any debate.

But when I actually sat down and read the details, I thought this will never pass and maybe that's ok. It just read like something that would dilute an individual's vote rather than something that would "power it up" as the argued in their ads.

Would it create fairer and more reflective results? You betcha (tongue firmly in cheek). But would it make an individual vote more "powerful"? Actually, no, it probably wasn't going to do that. What it would do was take my ranking and turn them into some type of larger number of representatives for an even larger geographical region. I hasten to add that I don't need a more detailed explanation - I do understand the intricacies of STV. What I am talking about is the "impression" the explanation left and how that didn't square with the advertisement slogan on all the pro-STV banners.

If someone on the fence sat down and read the very nicely produced pieces explaining STV, I suspect a good many of them walked away with the same impression I did. I actually did hear a woman talking with a fellow worker at a shop about the issue yesterday morning, and both concluded they weren't sure how they wold vote on the matter later that day. Not a good sign when even the folks open to the idea are left going, "hmmm, not real sure about this." I really don't know how I would have voted if I could have. I probably would have voted for STV, but like those women in the shop I wasn't convinced.

My suspicion is last time the proponents really did try to promote the fairness argument. When that fell short, they probably read the feedback and results as an argument that people needed to hear they would have more power under the new system, that their individual votes would matter more.

But electoral reform isn't about giving EACH individual more power. it's about making the final results more reflective of all the voters in the election (i.e. it makes the results fairer). If you decide not to argue that indisputable fact - I never saw the word "fair" once in this campaign - then you're going to lose votes, not gain them.

It's easy to say that on a Wednesday morning after the election, but I still feel it's a valid point.

I think it is a shame that yet again nearly 10% of the vote was essentially spoiled last night, but the solution put forth didn't appeal to the voting public.

Anonymous said...

"My suspicion is last time the proponents really did try to promote the fairness argument."

Going into the 2005 election, British Columbians had an Assembly in which the Liberals held 77 of 79 seats. This would lead to more calls for electoral reform than an Assembly with more NDP representatives which we experienced yesterday.

Voters sure have short memories.

Steve V said...


I appreciate your reference to "fair". I think part of the problem here, people believe our system needs reform, but when confronted with a detailed alternative, the ideal gets bogged down in the flaws of any one particular concept. You can argue that STV was simple to understand, but fact of the matter it really wasn't for the casual.

John said...

Steve given a choice between FPTP vs Instant-Run Off voting, can you think of ANY reason why individuals WOULDN'T choose IRV?

Would people really say they prefer to cast a single check (where they may have to bite their tongue and only support an MP they don't like so as not to hurt their favourite party choice) rather than rank their choices, while keeping EVERYTHING else the same?

IRV seems like a no brainer to me, it's just too bad the citizen's assemblies were too focused on what would be the most "fair" rather than what actually had a snowball's chance in hell of being accepted.

Steve V said...

"Steve given a choice between FPTP vs Instant-Run Off voting, can you think of ANY reason why individuals WOULDN'T choose IRV?"

Not really :)

John said...

Well then, why not get on with it then? As I said IRV would be a no brainer and unlike STV you wouldn't see the "entrenched interests" campaigning against it, because it wouldn't prevent them from getting majorities (which I think was the biggest stake in the heart of STV/MMP - Canadians shudder at the thought of perpetual minorities).

Joseph said...

Steve, I don't post on blogs much but I have to clarify something.

STV is not a proportional system. a PR system by design (stress that) has the number of votes roughly equal the number of seats.

STV doesn't do that. Let's say that you have an STV riding with two seats available, and according to the Droop quota, you need five votes to win (nice small number).

If five voters rank the Liberals first, and the NDP second, then both the NDP and the Liberals get one seat each. But if the same voters rank the Liberals first and second, then the Liberals get two seats (assuming that that the second Liberal candidate and the NDP have the same number of first placed votes).

We have the same number of first place votes for the Liberals in both scenarios. But in one result, the Liberals get one seat, and in another, the Liberals get two. That is not proportional.

I personally don't think that proportionality is important at all, especially when local representation is sacrificed, but it does irk me when people say that STV is proportional when it isn't.

Joseph A.

Steve V said...

Fair enough, I take your point. This initiative is seen as a more representative expression of democratic will, so that is where the proportional component comes in. I understand what you're saying, but the fact of the matter, we would have some Green representation today, if this system was in place, so you could say it's more proportionally representative than the current FPTP. Anyways, what your point really addresses is the complexity, which is part of the problem for people trying to decipher just what the hell this new system means.

Wayne Smith said...

So once again, one political party has ALL the power, even though most people voted against them.

Most of us are "represented" by somebody we voted against, and most MLAs "represent" mostly people who voted against them.

And apparently, most people in BC think all this is OK.

I don't think it's OK, and I am not going to stop saying so.