Thursday, February 08, 2018

BC government consultation stacks the deck for proportional representation electoral system

BC government electoral system referendum website consultation logo
Bill Tielemans 24 Hours Vancouver column

Tuesday November 21, 2017

By Bill Tieleman

“When you're playing against a stacked deck, compete even harder.” 

-       Pat Riley, ex-National Basketball Association head coach

Heads or tails?  Ante up or fold? Black or red?

Whether it’s flipping a coin, playing poker or roulette – you have two choices, not multiple choices – just pick one and either win or lose.

Unless you are the BC government and consulting the public online about possibly changing our electoral system in the fall of 2018, which determines how we are governed and how we choose our representatives.

Regrettably, the New Democratic Party I support wants to change the voting system to something called proportional representation.  So does the Green Party.

I disagree – and successfully led opposition to the Single Transferable Vote in referendums in 2005 and 2009.

But I respect voters choosing through a democratic referendum.

What I don’t understand is why the NDP government appears to be reneging on a clear pre-election promise Horgan made.  

Horgan told the Vancouver Sun in May that referendum ballot would have only two choices – either keep our existing First Past The Post system or move to some proportional representation model.

“A consensus on yes or no is pretty easy.  You are going to have 50 per cent say yes or no,” Horgan said then.

“So you give them one system to vote on?” a reporter asked.

“Yeah, yeah exactly,” Horgan responded.

But last week Attorney General David Eby launched a consultation website that’s anything but clear – except in its bias towards proportional representation.

It appears to encourage using a “ranked ballot” in the referendum – designed to maximize the possibility of some proportional representation system squeaking through. 

How?  Voters whose first choice comes in last place then get their second choice counted.  And maybe their third and fourth choices.

One disturbing question: “The referendum should offer voters the choice between the current First Past The Post voting system and MORE THAN ONE Proportional Representation voting system.”

And then another: “Voters should rank order their support for all the proposed systems.”

So – is the referendum ballot going to be “yes or no” – one system or the other – as the premier promised? Or multiple choices and a ranked ballot?

Instead of stacking the deck in favour of proportional representation the NDP government should reshuffle – and get back to what it promised.


Sunday, February 04, 2018

Why Andrew Wilkinson won the BC Liberal leadership, confounding pundits and Dianne Watts; BC NDP beware

New BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson celebrates his win Saturday on stage at the Wall Centre 

By Bill Tieleman 

No one in the political prognostication business likes to be wrong but we all are occasionally and when that happens the best thing to do is review the analysis that was erroneous.

Andrew Wilkinson is the new BC Liberal leader even though I predicted in this space Saturday that Todd Stone should win the BC Liberal leadership vote.

Instead Stone underperformed on the first ballot, garnering 17% compared to frontrunner Dianne Watts 24.5%, a surprising Michael Lee just behind at 22%, Wilkinson at 18%, Stone at 17%, Mike de Jong at 16% and Sam Sullivan at 1.8%.

After that Stone sank like his namesake, exiting with 20%.

What happened?  How did Wilkinson jump from 18% first ballot support to 53% in the fifth and final vote?  And will the BC NDP risk underestimating him?

First - credit Wilkinson for manufacturing a narrow win by doing all the little things right.  Known as a cold fish, snarky speaker and exuding all the charm of an undertaker, Wilkinson set about to change his public image and persona.

Rather than talking about being both a medical doctor and lawyer as well as a Rhodes Scholar, Wilkinson talked about delivering babies in Campbell River, growing up in Kamloops without a lot of money and living north of Cache Creek.  

Smart positioning instead of talking about being smart.  Identifying himself as a doctor - one of the most trusted occupations in our society.  Making people forget he represents uber-rich Vancouver Quilchena riding by referencing where he grew up.  

Charlie Smith, editor of the Georgia Straight, points this out in a new article today rightly warning the BC NDP to not underestimate Wilkinson. 

At the same time, Wilkinson has a serious challenge - keeping the fractured party together - which he acknowledged bluntly in his victory speech.  And that is doubly difficult for a guy who only got 18% of BC Liberal members to make him their first pick for leader. 

Unlike me, Smith was one of the few who correctly called Wilkinson the winner well in advance of the lengthy voting yesterday, saying on December 29 that: 

"Andrew Wilkinson will win the B.C. Liberal leadership race
The MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena is not the most dynamic speaker. And his name recognition with the public is still quite low. But the former B.C. Liberal party president has run the most effective campaign to replace Christy Clark."

All true.

Second - and perhaps most importantly - Wilkinson spent a lot of time sucking up to the BC Liberal caucus, including before the May 2017 election. 

That was evident when Wilkinson emerged with by far the most MLA endorsements - 13 - far more than the seven Todd Stone and Mike de Jong each had - and the bit 0 for either Dianne Watts or Michael Lee or Sam Sullivan.

BC political observers have seen former BC Premier Christy Clark win the 2011 BC Liberal leadership with just one MLA endorsement - the hapless Harry Bloy - and presumed wrongly that endorsements don't matter.

This contest proved they do and that Clark's win without caucus support was an anomaly.  What's more, that failure to convince sitting MLAs to back her leadership bid nearly cost Clark the premiership when the government ran into serious trouble and BC NDP leader Adrian Dix looked easily positioned to win the 2013 election. 

With the BC Liberals unique 100 points per riding voting system, a rural riding with 200 members is of equal strength as an urban riding with 5,000 members - each is 100 points.

That meant local MLAs had more influence on the results - and Wilkinson had more of them.

As for Stone - the twin troubles of the ICBC "dumpster fire" and his campaign being forced to admit 1,349 membership sign ups were disqualified for irregularities - and under the auspices of AggregateIQ - the controversial firm connected to Brexit issues in the United Kingdom vote that is under investigation by the Privacy Commissioner there - was simply too much to overcome.  

With the BC Liberal Party to date not releasing actual vote counts and the participation rate of the 60,000 members it is impossible to know exactly how close things were or whether a small number of votes could have tipped the scale in a different direction.

But with most leadership contests in recent years showing turnout of around 55% - see the Alberta United Conservative Party and federal Conservative party leadership votes - if only 33,000 BC Liberals voted, and given the closeness of the first ballot, it's easy to see that Stone could have indeed been a real contender if not beset by both problems.

And in my own defence - I did correctly predict outsider Dianne Watts would finish in second place - and that an insider would win.

I also wrote this yesterday before the vote: "But Wilkinson should still do well and in an ideal situation become the alternative final ballot choice to Watts - or Stone."

So while I will endeavour to do better on the prognosticating in the future, I did clearly foresee a possible Wilkinson win over Watts - as actually happened.

And that's not bad for predicting a multi-candidate race with up to 60,000 voters in a political party I don't support! 


Saturday, February 03, 2018

Why Todd Stone should win today's BC Liberal leadership vote over Dianne Watts

Will Todd Stone be the new BC Liberal leader tonight?
By Bill Tieleman

Todd Stone should emerge from one of the nastiest, most divisive and destructive leadership races we've ever seen in Canada as the BC Liberal Party's new leader this evening - and do so over Dianne Watts on the final ballot.

Despite a plethora of problems for Stone - from the outrageous ICBC deficit he created to having over 1,300 of his party membership signups rejected - the former transportation minister from Kamloops and current opposition MLA, he is still the best placed to win the leadership vote and, the party membership hopes - eventually the province's premier following the next BC election.

The fact that most of the other candidates have ganged up on Stone in the final days means their campaign teams know Stone is the one to beat, based on their own internal tracking.

And Stone's likelihood of winning is in no small part because of the BC Liberal Party's interesting electoral system - which gives 100 points for each of BC's 87 ridings in the voting - or 8,700 in total - meaning the winning candidate needs 4,351 points to win.

BC Liberal leadership candidates from left: Mike de Jong, Andrew Wilkinson, Sam Sullivan, Dianne Watts, Michael Lee and Todd Stone at campaign event.
It means that while a strong regionally-based candidate like Dianne Watts, the former Surrey mayor and Stephen Harper Conservative Member of Parliament, can sign up lots of members in a relatively few ridings - they don't matter anything like the do in a province-wide, one member-one vote contest.

So the campaign with the most broad, cross-province support - both on the first and subsequent ballots - should win. 

Watts, who I expect to finish in second place tonight but still could win, has by all accounts recruited a lot of new members in suburban Metro Vancouver ridings.

But even if her campaign signed up 6,000 members in three different ridings and dominated the voting there, it's still only a maximum of 300 points out of 8,700.  And a rural riding with just a few hundred members has the same equal voting strength of 100 points. 

So of course, the same math applies to newcomer candidate Michael Lee, BC LIberal MLA for Vancouver-Langara, who claims to have signed up the most new party members.

And the key to winning this contest is who BC Liberal members make as their second, third and fourth choices on the ranked ballot - because those redistributed votes will almost surely determine who the new leader is.

There is also the element of insiders vs outsiders, with those who served in the Christy Clark BC Liberal government viscerally angry with ultimate outsider Dianne Watts trying to take the crown - given Watts only joined the BC Liberal Party after the 2017 election and did nothing to assist that campaign in her home base of Surrey - where the party lost several tough battles to the BC NDP. 

Lee is the traditional dark horse candidate who could surprise the favourites - but I believe that despite a very good campaign, impressive candidate and a strong set of strategists, Lee is simply too unknown to the party or public to get to the final ballot.

Former Attorney General Andrew Wilkinson started very strong and still has the most BC Liberal MLA endorsements but as the long campaign wore on, Wilkinson's attempts to be populist and grassroots faded and his traditional chippy, charmless style came out to poor effect.  

But Wilkinson should still do well and in an ideal situation become the alternative final ballot choice to Watts - or Stone.  

Ex-Finance Minister Mike de Jong is having a much better leadership campaign than his ill-fated 2011 effort against winner Christy Clark, when de Jong couldn't find a single fellow caucus member to support him.  

But with all and sundry blaming the tight-fisted former finance minister for not spending the BC Liberals huge savings pre-election for their stunning 2017 loss, de Jong is not going to win.  Nor will his deal to urge second-choice support to Wilkinson and vice-versa make much difference.

Sam Sullivan never expected to win - and he sure won't.  The former Vancouver mayor who represents Vancouver-False Creek has run on the most right-wing platform of all candidates with a few wild ideas thrown in - and has been the least vituperative in the donnybrook.

If campaigns matter - and they usually do - Watts has had a terrible effort.  

Appearing not just at the outset but throughout the campaign debates as ill-prepared, lacking policies and prescriptions, and beset by her competition repeatedly, Watts is nonetheless popular with some in the party and does not carry the baggage of the Christy Clark premiership that Stone, Wilkinson and de Jong are toting as ex-Clark cabinet ministers.

Watts, Lee and Sullivan also have no - as in zero - BC Liberal MLA support - not a good sign either.

Wilkinson leads with 13 MLAs backing his bid while Stone and de Jong each have seven, with the remaining BC Liberal MLAs sitting out endorsements for various reasons.

Christy Clark proved in 2011 that you could in fact win the leadership with just one MLA backing your campaign - and a very unimpressive one at that - Harry Bloy - but this is a different time and set of candidates.  Plus - recent events raise questions about the leadership voting process - was Kevin Falcon robbed of the premiership?  Time may tell.

But tonight is about the future of the BC Liberal Party - not its past - and whether Stone, Watts or another candidate wins, the new leader faces a daunting task of uniting a party that is out of power and out of sorts.

And then they have to face the formidable battle of taking on BC NDP Premier John Horgan, who is now Canada's second most popular premier and showing that he loves being in government after year in opposition.

Anything can happen in BC politics - and often does - but periodically BC's right wing forces made up of federal Conservatives and federal Liberals joining together provincially shatters into pieces.  

This campaign certainly has been a likely lead up to another political splintering at least for awhile - and being in opposition without the ability to put your former rivals into plum cabinet jobs means the new leader will be hard pressed to create the unity needed to contend.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

NO BC Proportional Representation Society brings together political opponents to fight Pro-Rep in BC fall referendum

Bill Tieleman and Suzanne Anton - at CBC Radio launch day

No to Proportional Representation in BC

I am pleased to share our first news release of the campaign to stop Proportional Representation in BC and keep our current electoral system - First Past The Post - that has served British Columbia well. 

NEWS RELEASE                                                                Wednesday January 10, 2018

Former Attorney General Suzanne Anton, ex NO-STV President Bill Tieleman, and retired veteran deputy minister Bob Plecas set up new society to fight Proportional Representation in 2018 vote

Former BC Liberal Attorney General Suzanne Anton, long-time BC New Democrat Bill Tieleman – who successfully led opposition to the Single Transferable Vote electoral system in the 2005 and 2009 provincial referenda, and Bob Plecas, who served as a deputy minister in multiple portfolios under several BC governments – have formed the No BC Proportional Representation Society and serve as its three directors.
Bob Plecas
The Society will work to defeat any proportional representation system proposed for the fall 2018 referendum schedule and support the current First Past The Post electoral system that has served BC well.

Anton, Tieleman and Plecas say that proportional representation systems put political parties ahead of voters; are confusing; cut directly accountable locally-elected representation – especially in rural areas – and promote extremist parties who can hold the balance of power in perpetual minority governments, and decide who governs, and with what policies.

“Proportional representation electoral systems put parties ahead of people,” said Anton.  “Pro-rep systems where 30 to 40 per cent of elected officials come from a party-chosen list means that party bosses choose legislators and not people. Those legislators are not from geographic ridings and are not accountable to citizens.”

Tieleman says the rise of extremist parties in Europe is aided by proportional representation, since as little as 1 per cent of the vote is enough to elect legislators.

“Our First Past The Post electoral system forces winning candidates to gain the support of their ridings and be held directly accountable to them or face defeat,” says Tieleman.  “But proportional representation systems allow parties with extreme positions of the right or the left to be elected with a tiny percentage of votes – and then use that validity, legitimacy and platform to further their cause.”

Plecas says his experience working with governments ranging from Social Credit Premier Bill Bennett to NDP Premier Glen Clark showed him that the First Past The Post system serves British Columbia well, whatever their politics.

“Our current electoral system encourages parties to gain broad-based support and take into account all regions of the province and all perspectives – or face defeat,” Plecas said.  “It is particularly important that non-urban voters have locally elected representatives who they can hold responsible – and ensure their interests are not lost in a rush to gain urban votes.”

Tieleman and Plecas both helped organize opposition to the Single Transferable Vote proposed in the 2005 and 2009 referenda, building a wide coalition with support from all political perspectives.  In 2005, STV was narrowly defeated but in 2009 after a much more significant public debate, voters strongly rejected STV, a form of proportional representation, by 61 per cent to 39 per cent.

Tieleman, who also helped lead opposition to the Harmonized Sales Tax that was eliminated in a 2011 referendum, warns that the 2018 electoral system referendum will be a difficult test for those who support the First Past The Post.

“The requirement in 2005 and 2009 that 60 per cent of voters approve of such a fundamental change is now gone and only 50 per cent plus one could give us a disastrous electoral system with endless minorities, backroom deals and unaccountable politicians forever,” Tieleman said.  

“We have our work cut out for us to defeat proportional representation and not end up like Italy, Israel, Austria or other countries where the electoral system promotes extremists and damages democracy.”

Anton agreed, saying the No BC Pro-Rep will encourage British Columbians from every perspective and community to join together to reject proportional representation.

“I’m pleased to work with Bill Tieleman because this referendum is too important for partisan politics,” Anton said. “We will be building a strong, non-partisan team that supports our current electoral system and rejects a system that puts parties ahead of people.”

Plecas, Tieleman and Anton say No BC Pro-Rep will seek to be the official proponent group opposing proportional representation and supporting First Past The Post in the provincial referendum, and that they support equal public funding for both sides.

“Voters need to hear the arguments for and against proportional representation and First Past The Post in order to decide for themselves what’s best for BC,” Plecas said. “The most effective way to do that is by the government ensuring fair, adequate and equal funding to both sides for public awareness campaigns, as well as sponsoring debates around the province.”