Rock the Vote: B.C. Referendum

B.C. is about to make a big decision about voting systems that could affect the rest of the country. Here's what you need to know about it.
Facebook
Twitter

Rock the Vote: B.C. Referendum

B.C. is about to make a big decision about voting systems that could affect the rest of the country. Here's what you need to know about it.
Facebook
Twitter

Subscribe to The Bullet to get our deep dives into trending news topics straight to your inbox.


YOU ASK, WE ANSWER

How about the B.C. referendum?

I can’t figure out what the actual implications of each voting system are. Who has a bigger voice? Urban people, rural people? You can have extreme right/left parties with a seat. But how much can they actually accomplish with one seat? Is that a danger or not? Thanks!” – Jonathan S., Vancouver, B.C.

 


THE BACKGROUND

If you live outside British Columbia, chances are you don’t know about the upcoming referendum to decide the fate of the province’s voting system.

Lucky for you, we’re here to fill you in on when it’s happening, what’s at stake and why the results matter for all Canadians — not just the ones on the Best West Coast.

 

I’M FEELING A BIT REFEREN-DUMB. WHAT’S THIS VOTE ALL ABOUT?

During last year’s provincial election, now-Premier John Horgan and the NDP ran on a pledge to put the future of B.C.’s electoral system to a vote.

Horgan argued the current First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) model disenfranchises smaller political groups and their supporters from the electoral process.

The premier is pushing for an overhaul towards Proportional Representation (PR), the model he says will ensure every voice is heard.

 

HAS B.C. ATTEMPTED THIS BEFORE?

Indeed, they have. The province held similar referendums on electoral reform in 2005 and 2009.

 

HOW WILL THIS REFERENDUM WORK, EXACTLY?

We’re glad you asked.

British Columbians will vote by mail-in ballot from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30 on whether to keep or turf the current election system.

The ballot will consist of two questions. The first will ask whether B.C. should keep First-Past-the-Post as its model (which is the standard electoral system in Canada) or switch to Proportional Representation for future elections. The second question will ask voters to rank three different Proportional Representation models in order of preference.

If Proportional Representation wins out, the new system will be enacted in time for B.C.’s next election in 2021.

 

ROADMAP TO ELECTION REFORM

If you’re participating in the upcoming referendum (and even if you’re not), it’s probably wise to know something about the different options on the table.

 

Option 1: First-Past-The-Post (B.C.’s Current Voting System)

How it works

Parties put forward one candidate per riding and the candidate with the most votes wins that seat, becoming a member of the legislative assembly (a.k.a. MLA). The number of ridings a party wins translates to the number of seats it holds in the legislature.

Pros

• Simple to understand
• Easy to administer
• Often leads to stable, majority governments

Cons

Candidates simply need the most votes, not a majority of votes, to win, which can lead to tactical voting, wasted votes and a legislature that doesn’t reflect the true political will of the people.

Who the system works best for

Two-party systems

Option 2: Dual Member Proportional

How it works

In most districts, parties nominate up to two candidates to represent the district in the legislature — a primary candidate and a secondary candidate. The primary seat is elected using First-Past-the-Post while the second seat goes to a party based on its share of the popular vote. See here for a sample ballot.

Pros

• Promotes engagement and diversity
• Limits strategic voting
• Results likely to be proportional to popular vote

Cons

This system’s never been tested. Seats assigned based on province-wide popular vote might not reflect the will of individual districts.

Who the system works best for

Independent candidates; minority parties and their supporters; rural voters

 

Option 3: Mixed Member Proportional

How it works

The province is carved into districts and districts are grouped into larger regions. District MLAs are elected using First-Past-the-Post while regional MLAs are selected from a party list reflecting the party’s chunk of the popular vote. See here for a sample ballot.

Pros

• Promotes engagement and diversity
• Limits strategic voting
• Results likely to be proportional to popular vote
• Tested in other jurisdictions.

Cons

Tends to generate minority governments, and can create two classes of legislators: those elected and those chosen from the party list.

Who the system works best for

Minority parties and their supporters

 

Option 4: Rural-Urban Proportional

How it works

This is a hybrid of two different proportional models: Mixed Member Proportional (used in rural ridings) and Single Transferable Vote (used in urban and suburban ridings). Under Single Transferable Vote, parties can run multiple candidates and voters rank them. More than one MLA represents each riding.

Candidates that reach the winning threshold of votes are elected. Votes over and above the threshold are then transferred to remaining candidates based on the voters’ next choice. Candidates with the fewest votes are dropped and have their votes transferred too. See here for a sample ballot.

Pros

• Caters individually to rural and urban voters
• No party lists
• Results likely to be proportional to popular vote

Cons

Different voting systems can be confusing.

Who the system works best for

Voters favouring choice, diversity of representation and direct control over picking candidates.

 

IS IT TRUE THAT PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION CAN EMPOWER FRINGE CANDIDATES?

While some activist groups have campaigned against Proportional Representation on this basis, the systems proposed for B.C. are designed to prevent extremist parties from winning seats in the legislature by mandating that each party must earn more than 5% of the overall vote.

 

IS CHANGE ON THE HORIZON?

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

poll released at the end of last month found 33% of British Columbians were in favour of switching to Proportional Representation, while 31% preferred the status quo.

Adding to the intrigue? Thirty-three per cent of respondents said they were undecided.

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE REST OF CANADA?

B.C.’s upcoming referendum isn’t happening in a vacuum.

A vote for Proportional Representation could spur electoral reform movements across the country as other provinces weigh whether a system aimed at curbing wasted votes and encouraging broader representation in the legislature is right for their elections, too.

 


Subscribe to The Bullet to get our deep dives into trending news topics straight to your inbox.


Facebook
Twitter
Facebook
Twitter