Tuesday, April 14, 2009

BC-STV lite would have been an easier sell---especially in rural and northern B.C.

A more modest version of BC-STV would have simply divided the province into electoral districts of 3 different magnitudes: 3 member districts in metropolitan areas, 2 member districts in the southern interior, and single member (AV) districts in the north. This would yield improved voter choice, with recognizable and manageable constituency sizes. Yes, there would be only a modest improvement in over-all proportionality under my preferred scheme. But I would argue that a modest increase in proportionality is really all that is desireable, and all that is necessary, in order to shake up the Legislature and make it more representative of the population.

It is really difficult to say whether BC-STV will improve representation for the "typical" rural voter (whoever he or she is). On the one hand, the argument has been made that, since rural and northern ridings will have fewer MLAS, they will constitute a larger proportion of the caucuses of the two major parties than will their southern and urban counterparts. This could spell more, not less influence. Furthermore, the Citizens' Assembly did their homework and looked at the evidence from Ireland, Malta and the Australian Senate: sure enough, representation in multi-member STV constituencies does tend to be evenly distributed geographically. On the other hand, it is difficult to guarantee the town council of McKenzie or 100 Mile House that they will be as sought after or as listened to in a geographically much larger riding. And then there is the simple math: the number of representatives per capita will be approximately the same under both systems.

I would have preferred to split the difference-- keep the northern ridings much the same size as they are now, but with a majoritarian preferential ballot (also known as Alternative Vote). That would improve voter choice and have the intended moderating effect upon candidates as they compete for second and third preferences. A degree of genuine proportional representation in the province would still come from the multi-member ridings in more densely populated areas, raising the bar somewhat for the creation of majority government, but not opening the door to perpetual minorites or too many Green-Party balance of power scenarios.

Having 3-member seats in Greater Vancouver and Victoria and 2-member seats in the southern interior would have two further advantages. First, the resultant constituencies would more clearly correspond to the boundaries of actually recognized communities than either the existing First-Past-the Post system or BC-STV: the Richmond riding would contain all of Richmond; the Surrey riding would contain most of Surrey; North, South and West Vancouver constituencies would facilitate the discussion of most local neighbourhood interests; while the double ridings of Kamloops and Cariboo would correspond to most residents' perceptions of where those communities are. Second, constituencies of magnitude 1-3 would present most voters with choices between a manageable number of candidates and facilitate the formation and expression of well-considered preferences.

That being said, "STV-lite" is not on the ballot. All things considered, I am still willing to follow the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly and support BC-STV on May 12. I hope that all of my readers will do likewise.

1 comment:

Frédéric Van Caenegem said...

Very interesting concept this "STV-lite". But true, it is not on the ballot, and BC-STV as proposed on May 12, is quite close to this concept. I too hope your readers will support this considerable improvement on the current electoral system.