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

SFN councillor Joanne Charles, White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker and Coun. David Chesney listen to welcoming remarks from Chief Harley Chappell (Xwopokton). (FIle photo)
White Rock, SFN grieve together on National Indigenous Peoples Day

Residents encouraged to wear orange on Canada Day

Surrey RCMP are investigating after shots were fired at a white Jeep Saturday evening in Newton. (Shane MacKichan photo)
UPDATE: Surrey RCMP asking for video after shots fired in Newton

Surrey RCMP said a silver SUV shot at a white Jeep

A Grade 8 class at L.A. Matheson Secondary. March 2021. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
B.C.’s return-to-school plan good, but Surrey teachers hope there is room for adjustments

Surrey school district to receive $1.76M of the $25.6M provincial pandemic-related funding

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

(file)
Pedestrian hit by police vehicle in Langley

Injuries described as serious, requiring surgery

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

Most Read