The Nelson Daily News is running a five-part debate on STV. Each part looks at a single topic seen both from the Yes and No sides. Topics include:
Constituency Size
Advantages and Disadvantages
Last Chance For Electoral Reform?
Is STV Bad For Business?
Party Discipline
Constituency Size

The Yes Side
by Roy Ball

Larger constituencies When the Citizen's Assembly chose STV my initial reaction was very negative. A major reason was the increased size of rural constituencies. After many arguments with the Citizen's Assembly I finally became convinced they had done a thorough , unbiased examination of our current voting method, various pro-rep methods used throughout the world (75 countries including most of Europe and over half of all democracies use pro-rep), and the concerns of BC voters.
I still have concerns about larger constituencies but the benefits far outweigh them. I can vote for my preferred candidate without fear of wasting my vote; I can select from multiple candidates from each party rather than have the parties make this decision; I can make my 1st, 2nd, 3rd choices across party lines; I have several MLA's representing me so if one doesn't give me satisfaction I can go to the others; and I can say goodbye to crazy results like the last 2 elections.
The actual size of the constituency is not cast in concrete but will be determined by an independent boundaries commission who will listen to all sides of this debate. The number of MLA's in each region will stay the same so the constituencies must increase in size to accommodate multiple MLA's.
Some feel that a larger constituency has disadvantages: These people may be happier with only 2 MLA's in a constituency (same size as our current federal ridings). This gives more choice and proportionality than the current system but not as much choice and proportionality as a larger constituency.
Others feel that a larger constituency with 3 or 4 MLA's has advantages: The effect on accountability is very debatable. Some MLA's may try to wiggle out of responsibility but, on the other hand, voters have the final say on which candidates to choose from each party. At present the political parties make this decision and the voters' only way to prune party deadwood is to vote for a different party. Interestingly, in the 1986 Tasmania election, the proportion of seats held by each party did not change very much but half of the previous MLA's were replaced because voters felt they were not tackling voters' concerns.
Tasmania has used STV in state elections since 1909 and Australia has used it in the Senate since 1949. Western Australia Senate also uses STV and has even less population density than BC. Australian Senator Bob Brown told me that large rural constituencies have not proven to be a problem.

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The No Side
by Mike Culpepper

If British Columbia votes "Yes" in the May referendum, local citizens will find themselves in a constituency 3 to 5 times the current size of Nelson-Creston. If - as the Citizens' Assembly recommended - we go to a three-member riding, it will stretch from the Blueberry-Paulson to the Alberta border. A four-member division will take us north past Mica Creek. A five-member constituency would add in Vernon or the Shuswap region. Even a three-member constituency would be larger than the current federal riding, more than 50,000 square kilometres. The Cranbrook-Kimberley area, with about 30,000 people, would be the main population centre - and the place for politicians to look for votes!
Imagine yourself as a constituent in the new, bigger, riding. Say you want help with a land use permit or a water license or your pharmacare or an environmental assessment or any one of the scores of problems that involve government. Your MLA is there to help you - if you can find him!
Or suppose you're upset with current programs, which of your MLAs is responsible? The three MLAs for our region all run against one another and compete for votes. Do you think any of them would be willing to take responsibility for your troubles? Chances are, each would be pointing to someone else. Nor is it likely that area MLAs would work together. Our current MLA was unsuccessful in creating a Kootenay Caucus of cooperative MLAs. Cooperation would hardly increase under the new system.
Now suppose you're a good MLA. You want to meet a group in Beaver Valley that is trying to upgrade recreational facilities but the Truck Loggers are gathering in Nakusp and the Tourist Association in Fernie has a promotion they want you to help with. How much of the riding can you cover in a day? You don't have long. The legislature will open soon and then you have to be in Victoria.
Suppose you are a party member and want to attend a nominating convention. Is the Salmo-Creston open or closed by a slide? Better hope the ferry's still running! Of course, you can always apply for a passport and go via the US, the way we used to do fifty years ago. You might as well stay at home anyway. Your nominating slate has been selected by the political experts on the Coast. Only two candidates this time! The party wants to concentrate its vote.
But here's the punch line. All these problems - lack of access and greater distances for constituents, lack of responsibility by elected members, difficulty in representation for MLAs, loss of local control for parties - all these problems can only get worse. Because right now our boundaries are drawn on the basis of the 1996 census. BC has grown by half a million people since then. But that half a million growth was in the Lower Mainland. Unless more seats are added to the legislature, Interior ridings can only get bigger. And that means, under STV, things can only get worse.

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Advantages and Disadvantages

The Yes Side
by Roy Ball

Advantages and disadvantages of STV My initial reaction to STV was very negative due to the increased size of rural constituencies. After endlessly grilling the Citizen's Assembly (CA) and Australian Senator Bob Brown (Australia has increasingly used STV for 109 years) I am now convinced the CA did an excellent job. I suggest we try STV but limit rural ridings to be similar or 50% larger than current federal ridings. This would give us 2 or 3 MLA's. Advantages of STV Disadvantages: Other issues: Political parties rarely give voters a chance like this. Most countries only get Proportional Representation, such as STV, after some disaster strikes (war, end of communism, revolution, economic collapse). If we don't seize this chance, we will likely be stuck with the existing, broken electoral method for a long time.

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The No Side
by Mike Culpepper

The Top Ten Advantages of our present electoral system over the Single Transferable Vote:
10 - Simplicity: A voter marks an X beside the candidate of choice. The candidate with the most votes wins. Simple. Complexity is never an advantage.
9 - Responsibility: The winners form a government that is held responsible for its actions. A government that fails to meet the peoples' standards will lose the next election, not muddle back into power through coalition deals or vote transfers.
8 - Independent Candidates Benefit: One riding, one winner. In BC the winner may be an independent candidate who appeals to the local constituency. In expanded STV ridings, independents will have a hard job standing out from the crowd. Celebrities, like Arnold Schwartzenegger, or those wealthy enough to buy a campaign may do well, ordinary candidates will disappear from sight.
7 - Small Parties Benefit: BC is big enough that small parties can form around regional bases and win seats. Reform in the north, or centrist parties like Gordon Wilson's Progressive Democrats or Elayne Brenzinger's Democratic Reform in certain Lower Mainland areas, are examples of small parties that hold or have held seats. Unity, in the Okanagan, and the Greens, on Vancouver Island, are examples of parties that are expanding from regional bases into wider prominence.
6 - Manageability: The huge size of interior ridings will create problems for people who need to see their MLA, and for MLAs who are trying to serve their constituents.
5 - Local Control: Huge size will make it more difficult for locals to maintain control of their constituency organization. Major decisions will be made at party headquarters. One decision will be whether to concentrate a party's vote by running fewer candidates than there are seats. All parties will concentrate on major population centers. Some areas will be left out.
4 - Accountability: Right now there is one MLA accountable to each and every voter in the riding. An MLA cannot hide behind the other members for his expanded riding and blame them for problems. MLAs who do not serve their constituents or who don't fulfill campaign promises will suffer at the polls.
3 - Familiarity: We are all familiar with the current system, it has served us well for more than a hundred years. Why import something most people don't understand and that is only used in a few very small places?
2 - Clarity: The current system provides results with clear winners and losers. A vote for a losing party isn't wasted - the winning candidate can look at the election results and gauge the opposition very well. There is no need to look at complex transfer formulas to figure out who really voted for what candidate.
1 - Transparency: The casting and counting of votes is a process that everyone can watch and understand. It isn't enough that a system is fair and honest, people have to be able to see its workings for themselves. Why lose our advantages? Vote "No" on May 17.

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Last Chance For Electoral Reform?

The Yes Side
by Roy Ball

Should we vote NO and hope for something better later? Proportional Representation (PR) is very hard to get on the agenda because usually "Turkeys don't vote for an early Xmas".
The Liberal Party are to be congratulated on their altruism! Governments rarely risk their majorities to be more democratic. People in power know that PR, especially STV, reduces their power. They are somewhat more amenable to Party List systems hence they are more widespread than STV.
Some voters want PR but prefer to hold out for Party List. Others say 'If you vote NO you could try for Party List later' but actually dislike any form of PR. Mike Culpepper is refreshingly candid that this is his viewpoint: Others pretend to prefer Party List but their history shows they are just trying to divide the PR camp.
Party List is more proportional than STV but does not remove as much Party power. MMP, a party list system proposed by Adriane Carr, had double sized ridings with only one MLA per riding picked by voters as opposed to 2 under STV. The Parties pick the other half of MLA's. Some Party list countries have absolutely no voter selection of MLA's.
Most countries that pass PR have a serious review within 10-15 years. It is the first step that takes cataclysmic change (end of communism, revolution, economic collapse etc...), external force (Ireland, Germany and Iraq) or ... an altruistic Xmas Turkey willing to cut its own throat.
The UK electoral reform society has been pushing for PR since the mid 1800's. PR only became possible with creation of Welsh and Scottish Assemblies. Rene Levesque wanted PR in Quebec but ran into a brick wall. The current Quebec Liberal proposal will make no meaningful change to representation.
There's a chance the Feds will introduce PR while in Minority /Coalition. A BC YES vote will give them a big push. A NO vote will scuttle/delay. Once the Feds revert to Majority rule forget about PR. Remember the Xmas Turkey!
STV is used extensively in Australia, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta, Isle of Man and India. It is being introduced for New Zealand and Scottish local elections. The Welsh Assembly and other Jurisdictions are seriously considering it.
The Irish have used STV since 1922. Independents now hold 15 seats. According to the Vancouver Sun 'The Irish government has twice tried to change STV to (FPTP) Canada's current system ---- mainly because Irish politicians wanted the kind of artificial majorities that FPTP often produces. Irish voters have twice rejected changing the voting system. '
Australia has used STV since 1909 in the state of Tasmania and 1949 in the National Senate. Many Australian States use STV.
If we vote NO and are given another chance sometime, what will we choose? The Citizen's Assembly, 160 impartial voters, spent a year hearing thousands of voters and examining world-wide voting methods. They voted 142 to 1 (wow!) for changing to PR, 123 to 31 for STV over Party List, and 146 to 7 for the final recommendation.
I bet we'd still pick STV. Why take the risk? Vote YES!

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The No Side
by Mike Culpepper

When salesmen try to rush you into buying something by saying it's your last chance, you probably feel like you're being hustled. Right now the voters of British Columbia are being hustled.
When the Citizens' Assembly met, the members quickly decided that they needed to recommend a new system, a proportional representation system. Many had already decided that Multi-Member Proportional or a Party List system was the best option. Both The Green Party and the New Democrats had worked up their own recipes for a good electoral system. But the MMP proposals ran into a problem: no one could figure out a way to make them responsive to the great size and population disparity of British Columbia unless seats were added to the legislature, and that wasn't going to happen. MMP could neither provide local representation nor accountable MLAs as the system does now. What it does do is give an election result that is very proportional to the votes cast. Proportionality was important to the Citizens' Assembly and they liked MMP, but they could not get around the problems it posed. So the Citizens' Assembly compromised. They chose STV, a system not as proportional as MMP, but more so than the one we have now. They chose a system not as accountable nor as representative of local populations as the one we have, but more so than MMP.
Of course there were other options. MMP might work in BC - if more seats are added to the legislature, but that was forbidden under the Citizens' Assembly terms of reference. And Single Member Majority or Preferential Voting, the system favoured by Australia for federal elections and all states except Tasmania and the Capital Territory for state elections, seems tailor-made for Canada - but that was never really examined by the Citizens' Assembly. So we are stuck with voting on this oddity, a system used by only a few tiny places around the globe. Meanwhile, BC's STV proponents seem lost in a dreamworld as they propose one fantasy after another of what might happen if STV becomes our electoral system - coalitions of the Left, politics without negativity, elect all the candidates you want - just by marking a few boxes! The fact that none of these things actually happen in the places that have STV doesn't seem to penetrate.
Obviously, if we can decide to hold a referendum now, we can decide to hold one in the future, so why be hustled into thinking this is our only chance?
Electoral reform is a hot topic in Canada right now. All across the country, provinces are talking about changing to a new system. Quebec has already put together a proposal to send to the voters, Prince Edward Island will likely be next, Ontario soon after. Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick are in preliminary discussions. This subject is not going away. If STV is rejected as a bad idea, voters will have another chance.

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Is STV Bad for Business?

The Yes Side
by Roy Ball

STV is business friendly because it avoids wide swings in policy / taxation as we lurch from Left to Right. Big policy swings are obscenely costly for taxpayers. STV leads to stable governments and better debated legislation.
I own an electronics manufacturing company in Ottawa that exports world-wide. I know first-hand that sustainable, responsible business won't invest in BC unless we get stable government/balanced legislation.
Chamber of Commerce is neutral on STV but a prominent member says 'Yes, this is an important point: governmental stability is critical to sound business investment strategies'
Canadian Taxpayers Federation have toured BC saying STV is better for business and increasing government accountability.
Bruce Hallsor, BC co-chair of federal Conservative party/former Canadian Alliance candidate, says 'our back and forth political culture has not been a comfort to investors or businesses… STV is good for business, the economy, and more importantly, for democracy'. Vancouver Businessmen Andre Monar and Nick Geer agree.
Italian style government with annual coalition changes? No way! Italy uses a party list system that allows a huge number of small parties in the legislature. Very small parties will not get seats under STV because of the high threshold for winning.
Stable government / positive business climates are seen in Australia, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Poland, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Portugal, Spain and most of the 75 Pro-Rep countries.
Doctor Andre Piver sat at regional public sector management tables and says we waste massive resources to comply with the "New Order" every time we get a Left/Right swing: Months of meetings and frantic scrabbling for scarce dollars by realigning appearances of programs: Ministries/programs/offices opened and closed. All this even if the new policy was intended to diminish bureaucracy. STV will buffer extreme swings which result from current "throw the bums out" politics.
Business owners, like other voters, need access to MLA's. The NO campaign says voters won't get access in rural constituencies 4 or 5 times larger? WHAT NONSENSE! Citizen's Assembly report page 4 says north and south-eastern BC districts will only be 2 or 3 times the size. Want to access your MLA? How about email or a toll free number?
Rafe Mair, political commentator/former Cabinet Minister from a rural area says this is the day of email/cell phone not horse and buggy and it'll be nice to choose who you want help from bearing in mind you'll likely have at least two parties involved. Having to live in Victoria as Cabinet Minister, Raif was constantly on the road travelling all over the world but his secretary easily dealt with routine constituency issues. He comfortably handled the more difficult matters and made his presence felt. All this before cell phones, fax and email! He says that good MLA's will have no trouble with STV and you would find cooperation between MLA's of all stripes. NOTE: under STV it is easier to dump the deadwood.
Former Cabinet Minister, Corky Evans, has publicly echoed most of Raif's sentiments, feels that larger ridings will be more difficult but do-able and personally plans to vote YES.
STV is good for business, democracy and will save money too. What are we waiting for? Vote YES!

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The No Side
by Mike Culpepper

Is STV good for business? Well, the Fraser Institute and Canadian Taxpayers Federation say that it is and who am I to argue with them? But why do they sound so defensive and, for that matter, why does the question even arise?
One of the virtues of our present First Past The Post system is that it elects stable majority governments that can create legislative programs and act decisively. Under STV, there will be more of a tendency toward minority government. Proponents of STV present this as a good thing, they talk of coalition and cooperation between political parties. Maybe we should take a look at how government functions in those places that have STV.
Except in Ireland, coalition governments are rare under STV. Tasmania has had one Green/Labour coalition government but usually one party has the majority of seats. If not, minority government is the rule. In the 1950s, Tasmanian minority governments were unable to pass legislative programs. More seats had to be added to the legislature until majority governments were elected. Recently, though, Tasmania has reduced the size of its legislature and the problem of recurring minority governments may well return. Northern Ireland and Malta have never had a single coalition government, ever. In Malta, the major parties hate each other with a passion that is only matched by that of the parties of Northern Ireland. Cooperation is not a viable concept.
In Ireland, one party, Fianna Fail, dominates elections. In recent years it has joined in coalition with Progressive Democrats (who broke away from Fianna Fail in the 1980s). The main opposition party, Fine Gael, has occasionally joined with Labour to form coalition government. Parties generally create a coalition contract -- "the Programme" -- after an election. In 1997, eight men - four from each coalition party - met secretly to shape the new Irish government. Commentators talked about "smoke-filled rooms" and warned that the new government might not reflect the wishes of the electorate. In 2002, the same coalition was short of a majority, so had to court a couple of independents. These members offered their support in exchange for lavish expenditures in their ridings and pork-barrel politics became the issue of the day.
Ireland has not had a majority government since 1972. Since 1981, there has been increasing difficulty in forming workable coalitions. In 1993, Ireland brought in politically appointed Programme Managers to negotiate legislation. Thus, a new level of bureaucracy, unelected and answerable only to political masters, was created to manage coalition. Even with Programme Managers - or perhaps, because of them - legislative programs often fail to be realized. The 1983 Labour-Fine Gael coalition prioritized its agenda but found itself caught up in interminable negotiations between the parties, and was unable to pass its top-priority items, much less those lower on the list.
So, expanded bureaucracy and pork-barrel politics in Ireland, inability to govern in Tasmania, total lack of inter-party cooperation in Malta and Northern Ireland - this is what STV has brought to other countries. Bad for business? You decide.

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Party Discipline

The Yes Side
by Roy Ball

Here's what the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says on STV and accountability/party discipline. CTF is a non-partisan organization, with 61,000 supporters, dedicated to lower taxes, less waste and accountable government.
This referendum is all about accountable government. Past promises by politicians to be more accountable, provide better local representation, and decrease party discipline have failed. STV provides a rare opportunity to tilt the balance in favour of voters not political parties.
1991 and 1996 produced majority governments in British Columbia on just 40% of the vote. In 1996, the party with the most votes lost! In 2001 only 2 MLA's in opposition! What kind of democracy or accountability is that?
In our current system we vote "against" rather than "for" someone for fear of "splitting the vote." We do not get to vote for our first choice, and our votes are wasted.
The Citizens' Assembly was not the predictable top-down, politically appointed, blue ribbon panel nonsense … but 160 randomly selected and ordinary citizens. After a year's work, they overwhelmingly recommended changing to STV (146 to 7)
Current system has led to excessive party discipline and weak local representation. Party discipline enhances the power of premiers, cabinets and political parties. When your MLA becomes party property you lose your voice and your representation. Between elections voters cannot count on representatives to deny Premier and Cabinet anything and accountability for taxpayers is weakened.
The politicians' response? Each election the same tired commitments: more free votes, less party discipline, a greater role for backbenchers. Blah, blah, blah!
The answer is not to replace one government with another. Change the rules so there is less party discipline, better local representation and more accountable government.
Will STV weaken local representation? Not at all! With multiple MLA's per riding there is increased competition to serve voters. They must work harder to earn voter support. If one MLA does not take up your cause you have others to call on. 60% of votes are no longer wasted.
Many hold that strong local representation is a virtue of our current voting system. Not in British Columbia. Under severe party discipline this alleged virtue is non-existent.
Does STV address party discipline? Voters choose their representative, not parties. Gone will be unseemly nomination battles with bus loads of instant party members whose fees are paid by candidates
Voters can vote against an unpopular incumbent without voting against that party and leader.
Representative need not fear being tossed out for not toeing the party line. An MLA can tell the party leader that he/she will run as an independent. The Irish parliament has 13 independents!
We've had more than 100 years of the current system and little has changed. If you like the status quo, by all means vote NO. If you believe that we can do better, don't let this historic opportunity slip past.
We're very unlikely to see another opportunity like this in our lifetime. Vote YES!
The full CTF text can be seen here.

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The No Side
by Mike Culpepper

One of the more bizarre claims of the STVers is that their system would weaken party discipline. I am flabbergasted that so many intelligent people accept this notion at face value. Let's look at countries that have STV, Ireland and Malta. An Irish Green told Colleen McCrory, "If any party ever broke ranks, it would be headlines in the next day's paper." In fact, Fianna Fail, Ireland's biggest party, will turf members who abstain from - much less vote against - a government bill. Malta has never had a member cross the floor, ever.
Now, in BC, it is a common occurrence for members to vote against, leave, or disparage their party. At dissolution of the last legislature, one member had left the government to form her own party, another to be an independent. Other MLAs, especially in Victoria, have abandoned the government to run independent campaigns. These are supposed benefits of STV, but in fact, are characteristic of our present form of government. One person represents one constituency. If that person fails his or her constituents, he or she will suffer at the next election.
It is ironic that the one-time Liberal leader, Gordon Gibson, is so outspoken about reducing party discipline. Perhaps Mr.Gibson remembers the time when most of his caucus abandoned the Liberals and crossed the floor to join another party. Perhaps he really dreams of a system where he could command those members to do his will. After all, what kind of threat can a party leader make to a member who wants to break ranks? Expulsion from the party? Loss of cabinet status? These are coming anyway and are the lot of an independent. In the end, it is personal character and moral fibre that determine if an individual has the jam to withstand pressure. How we count ballots will not make one bit of difference.
But it is disturbing that so many people seem to oppose the idea of political parties, that "party politics" has become a scapegoat for so many. These people share a fantasy that politicians can act alone and, through glorious speech-making, create a wonderful new world that everyone will love. The fact is, each politician has only one vote and must combine with others to create anything at all. Political parties are made up of ordinary people who share similar goals. Individually, they are weak. They organize to gain strength. Political organization is one of the few ways that ordinary people can shape society. These people work hard to elect their candidate. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail. Sometimes they elect a candidate and are disappointed with the result. Sometimes they have to start over. It isn't easy - absolute monarchy is easier, or a dictatorship, or just making your X once every four years and complaining until the next election rolls around. The ancient Greeks that invented democracy had a word for people who weren't involved in politics; that word was "idiot".

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Roy Ball moved to Nelson in 1997. He owns an electronics manufacturing business that exports world-wide. Roy is concerned with sustainability, social justice, government efficiency and accountability. He is coordinating the Yes campaign in the West Kootenays. The Yes viewpoint is explained at Yes to STV. CBC offers a clear example of how STV works at CBC Votes.
Mike Culpepper has lived in Nelson more than thirty years. During that time he has worked in various provincial, federal, and municipal elections. Mike has a website explaining his views on the Single Transferable Vote In BC.