Prime Time Crime
(Published in the Abbotsford News week of Oct. 25, 2004)
Preferential Ballot = Dog's Breakfast
Whoa, whoa, slow down a little!! The unseemly rush to embrace the Single Transferable Vote Systemas the definitive answer to all evils in our current election process needs to be more closely scrutinized before we British Columbians vote for or against it next May.
Forgive me for not hopping on the media-driven bandwagon that suggests any democracy- loving voter should embrace the decisions of the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform with open arms.
Don’t get me wrong – the work of this assembly has been considerable through the past 10 months as its 160 members explored the need to change the first-past-the-post system that has been the mainstay of Canadian elections for decades. They felt the overwhelming need to change the way we elect our provincial government outweighed any arguments that the system was not broken, so why fix it.
Over the next seven months, it is incumbent upon British Columbians to examine that decision, and to become aware of the benefits – and of the dangers – of the proposed STV process the way it is structured. Then in May, while voting in the general election, they may vote for or against the proposal from an educated perspective.
The fact that STV is in use only in low-profile countries such as Ireland, Tasmania and Malta does not make it the be-all, end-all of how to make a democracy “better”. The fact that political coalitions usually seem to produce a dog’s breakfast of minority governments that result in more bickering than action, and lead to more elections than legislation must also be considered.
Italy is a perfect case in point: More than 50 different coalitions in the past 40+ years have governed Italy, and by all accounts, not particularly well.
On the face of it, the preferential ballot appears to give independents and smaller parties an opportunity to have some representation in the Legislature, as voters do not mark a single X for their preferred candidate, but grade them 1,2,3, etc. in order of preference. This all works well if the voters actually use all of their choices; but strategic voting can skew the results to make them little different from the first-past-the-post method.
For example, if seven MLAs are to be elected from one riding such as Surrey, the candidates will be listed by party affiliation, and voters can restrict their choices to one or two or three of their party’s players, rather than voting for a mixed magnificent seven. Or in a riding where two MLAs are to be elected, many voters might chose one from each of the principal parties (Liberal or NDP), believing they are balancing out the results. Truth is, it likely would result in two opposing MLAs, neither of whom would have any clout to get things done.
It is that prospect of infighting that may well prevent major projects from even being considered, let alone implemented. The result may see political parties having to make backroom deals with other parties that have nothing in common with projected goals to better the province. Ideological BMW-ing (bitching, moaning and whining) could be the order of the day, rather than good governance.
So, before you cast your vote for or against STV, treat it like a new strain of an old disease called politics. British Columbians are encouraged and would be wise to seek out as many answers, theories, benefits and concerns about the system from all angles and both sides before that vote.
Veteran B.C. journalist/broadcaster John Pifer may be reached at email@example.com.