The Proportional Representation (PR) options we might see in BC’s October 2018 referendum

We don’t know what the PR option(s) will be on the ballot, or the wording of the question, but we do know that a referendum on PR is coming if the BC Green MLAs continue to back the BC NDP minority government long enough. So what might we be voting for on the ballot?

The two choices that British Columbians are likely familiar with are MMP and STV.

    MMP

MMP (mixed-member proportional) is well known to many British Columbians from its use in Germany and New Zealand (among other jurisdictions). Here’s information on MMP from Fair Vote Canada: With MMP, some representatives are elected (typically under first-pastMixed-member Proportional Representation-the-post, oddly, despite alternatives existing). Parties are then given additional elected representatives off of a “party list” (a list of candidates that the parties generally submit ahead of the election, though there is an interesting model where the party list is populated by the “best near-winners” from the election) to make the popular vote and the seats work out proportionally. Many British Columbians became well aware of MMP during Adriane Carr’s “Free Your Vote” Citizen’s Initiative attempt which collected over 100K signatures of British Columbians who wanted a referendum on replacing our current electoral system with MMP. Proponents of MMP point out that:

– the results can offer an extremely high degree of proportionality

– it can be very simple for the voter

– it tends to keep parties unified

The devil’s in the details, though, as it can be implemented a lot of different ways. Open-list gives voters more choice and creates some potential for friendly competition between members of the same party, but closed-list keeps things simple for the voter and keeps parties more unified.

    STV

The other well-known form of PR for many British Columbians is STV (single transferable vote). Here’s Fair Vote Canada’s summary on STV: Fair Vote Canada’s summary on STV It was the BC Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform where many British Columbians (myself included) first became acquainted with it. With STV, you get one vote but multiple people are to be elected. It’s the one-vote/multi-member ridings that allow it to be proportional, and the more people elected in a single riding the more proportional the result becomes. It’s not always perfectly proportional (MMP isn’t always either), but it produces surprisingly good results. Under STV, you rank the ballot from your favourite candidate on down, stopping at any time (there’s no requirement to rank the entire ballot). Votes are transferred to second-choices, third-choices, etc., as necessary until all the seats available in a riding are won by someone.

Proponents of STV argue that that it has a different, but equally strong set of advantages, including:

– every elected member is tied to a geographic area (no party lists)

– it introduces some competition for voters between members of the same party, which lends itself to party members potentially being more independently-minded in the face of the party whip

– voters will have multiple people to consider from popular parties, meaning they are unlikely to get stuck with a party they like but a candidate they hate

– independent candidates can contest all ridings

– the fact that candidates/parties may be hoping to earn second (and third, and fourth, etc.) choice votes on the ranked ballots may make parties and candidates a bit more careful at attacking ideologically similar parties, avoiding “civil war” situations like we see in some areas between NDP and Greens, between the PCs and the Wildrose Party in Alberta, etc., and may lead to a better tone of debate than under a non-ranked system

– under STV, there’s usually no such thing as a “safe seat”

That’s a pretty significant, and pretty different, list of advantages so it’s no wonder that each has ardent fans amongst electoral reformers. If you want proportionality and simplicity, MMP may be for you. If you like the idea of the wheat being separated from the chaff, you might prefer the competition that STV creates between candidates of a party, as they have to be more concerned about what the voters think than what the party whip thinks. If you prefer strong parties, you might prefer MMP. If you prefer independent candidates and independently-minded candidates for parties, you might be more likely to get that with STV.

It’s likely that one of these systems, or a variation of one of them, will be on the ballot come October 2018. There is a hybrid system that attempts to merge elements of STV and MMP called Urban/Rural Proportional advanced by Fair Vote Canada (full disclosure: I’m a Fair Vote Canada member and active in the Victoria chapter). Here’s Fair Vote Canada’s summary of their proposed hybrid system: Rural-Urban Proportional Representation

It’s also possible multiple systems will be on the ballot. That was done in referendums in both PEI and New Zealand where a majority of voters opted to reform their electoral systems to make them more proportional, so it’s possible a similar model will be followed here. I am eager to find out!

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