Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reject Single Transferable Vote in May 12 BC referendum

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

Tuesday April 28, 2009

Just say 'no'


STV would not provide universally fair proportional representation for all BC voters. It would lead to more adversarial politics and it also could have unknown consequences in the parts of BC, particularly our cities, with large ethnic minorities.

- Colleen McCrory, late B.C. Green Party Chair, 2004

The Single Transferable Vote electoral system is the most radical issue in the May 12 provincial election but doesn’t come from either the B.C. Liberals or the New Democrats.

And although the B.C. Green Party adamantly opposed it until the 2005 referendum – remember then-leader Adriane Carr’s tears when the Citizens Assembly recommended STV? – the Greens then flip-flopped and supported it.

I fought STV in the 2005 referendum and this time I am president of No STV, the official opponent group which has received provincial government funding, working with B.C. Liberals, New Democrats, Greens and others to stop STV.

So you could therefore dismiss what I have to say – but consider the powerful arguments for rejecting STV.

STV would create enormous ridings of up to seven MLAs and 350,000 people that would take away local accountability and responsibility of MLAs to voters.

British Columbia’s 85 single member ridings would be reduced to just 20 under STV, meaning instead of having your own MLA in your riding, you would have up to seven MLAs in a much bigger area.

Kamloops, for example, would be part of a giant electoral area stretching from Quesnel to the U.S. border and would have five MLAs for that region – yet none would be responsible to any particular part of the riding!

And STV’s complicated “fractionalizing” or chopping up your vote using a mathematical “transfer value” formula means you will never know where your vote really went.

Even the Citizens Assembly explanation of the “weighted inclusive Gregory method” of calculating votes is mind-numbing:

“There are three variations of the Gregory method which differ as to the definition of ‘relevant votes’ for calculating the transfer value. Gregory’s original suggestion was that only the ballots that last contributed to the creation of the surplus votes should be counted (the Gregory last parcel method). “

“Some Australian elections use a second method, the Inclusive Gregory method, where relevant votes are defined as all the votes that contributed to a candidate’s surplus.”

“The BC-STV system recommended by the Citizen’s Assembly uses the Weighted Inclusive Gregory method under which all votes are counted and assigned to other candidates still in the count according to the voters’ preferences, but the ballots are given separate transfer values depending on their origin (that is, whether they are first preferences, or transfers from one or more other candidates).”

Glad we figured that part out!

And STV will actually increase, not decrease, the power of political parties.

Candidates in large STV ridings have to reach far more voters – Vancouver West would have six MLAs, Vancouver East five – so they will be even more dependent on the party to get their names and message out.

Party nominations would be more like wrestling matches than an exercise in democracy, with thousands of members trying to do deals with each other to get nominated. And that would continue in the election, as can be seen in Irish elections under STV.

Any smaller third parties or independents would have a horrendous challenge trying to reach up to 350,000 voters compared to the average single member riding size of 50,000.

Imagine just the cost of sending out one simply leaflet to 350,000 voters in the Capital Region riding around Victoria – an area stretching all the way from Port Renfrew through downtown Victoria, Saanich and Esquimalt up to the bottom of the Cowichan Valley.

STV proponents will claim candidates can “target” far less than the maximum number of voters to get elected – but how? Failing to ask all voters in the giant riding for their support would be a guarantee of not winning their confidence.

And that’s one reason why in Malta under STV no third party has been elected since the 1960s and no independent since the 1950s.

It remains a two-party, polarized state with no room for other parties, while B.C. has seen many small parties elect members over the same period of time – including Reform B.C., Social Credit, the Progressive Democratic Alliance and the Conservative Party.

And in Ireland, the only other country using STV as its national electoral system, politics are far nastier and more party-dominated than here.

Compared to B.C. or Canada, Ireland’s members of parliament – called TDs – are far more controlled by their party than here.

Professor Lee Komito of University College Dublin has written of Ireland that:

“Party discipline takes precedence over all other matters, and a strong party whip limits the range of individual politicians' actions. Individual TDs are ‘lobby fodder’; they are there to vote for or against the government on particular issues, as their party, rather than their own opinion, dictates.”

“Free votes are rare, and have taken place only on a few occasions in the entire history of the Dail. [Ireland’s parliament] When questions are raised in the Dail about particular government decisions, the actual merits of the case are irrelevant. Any individual case is merely another opportunity for opposition politicians to embarrass the government. Decisions are thus routinely supported by government politicians and routinely attacked by opposition politicians,” Komito has written.

But his realistic assessment of Irish politics bears little resemblance to the claims of STV proponents in B.C. that all is sweetness and light in the Emerald Island under the lucky charms of the Single Transferable Vote.

All of which is to underline the need for every voter to be well informed before making their choice in this referendum, for the results will bind the province for far longer than the election of any one political party.

That’s because the Citizens Assembly strong recommended that if adopted, the Single Transferable Vote be kept in place for a minimum of three elections. If STV passes and is first used in 2013 it would remain our electoral system until at least 2025.

That’s a very long time to put up with a serious mistake.

It would also ensure that other electoral systems such as Mixed Member Proportional – which has both single member ridings and a more proportional representation system than STV and which is used far more than STV around the world – would not be an option for B.C.

On May 12, vote to keep our current First Past The Post system – and if you want change, work for something far better than STV.

For much more information, see http://www.nostv.org/

A shorter version of this column was printed in 24 hours newspaper on Tuesday April 28, 2009. http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/



Chris said...

Just to refute a view of your claims.
1) I think STV will increase the power of individual MLAs and decrease party power. Why?
- Right now parties choose who will run in the riding. Take voters in Abbotsford South, which will likely re-elect van Dongen. They like the Liberal party, but only have the choice of one Liberal candidate. Under STV they could move their vote to other Liberal candidates and give their reckless MLA the boot.
- For the same reasons as above, MLAs will have more incentive to keep the voters happy. There will no longer be safe seats.

I also think there is a better chance of independents being elected. I'd rank Vicki Huntington pretty highly on my ballot, even though I'd never vote for her in the current system. I'm sure others feel the same.

Wayne Smith said...

There is zero accountability under the current system because our votes don't make a difference.

Most of us live in safe ridings and know right now, before the votes are cast, who will be elected in our riding. If we vote for that person, he gets elected. If we vote for somebody else, he gets elected anyway. If we don't vote at all, he still gets elected.

Why bother to vote at all? Increasing numbers of us don't.

BC-STV will give voters the power to hold politicians and political parties accountable, by giving every voter a vote that actually helps to elect somebody.

What a radical concept!

Gary E said...

North Van Politics posted the example of STV voting on their sight. It's from the elections BC sight.
I tried the example for my riding. I only voted for the candidate that I wanted. No others. Then had a look at the voting in my riding.

The person in 5th place was well behind with 7% of the votes and after all the results that person knocked off the one in 4th place who had 12%.
Then I tried it by voting for 6 people. Same result.

But I had to laugh. The person in 4th place was a Liberal candidate.But it could happen to anyone.

At any rate, where is the fairness. You originally get 12 % and get knocked out by someone who is running 5% below you. And the increase in percentage for number 5 was from people who would most likely not vote liberal. SAY NO TO STV

DPL said...

I don't particularly like the present system but after reading stuff from both camps, I'm not that sure I want to be in a riding with a whole bunch of MLA's either. My MLA,s office has always been down the street somewhere. Not a hundred miles or so away. Lets say we have three MLA's in a riding. One Green, one Liberal and one NDP. Will we have three constituency offices with staff? Do we go to the office of the party with the most members to get things done? The caucus solidarity is the big problem now,as the MLA's do what their leader wishes them to do. Why do we think it wouldn't still be in place with STV. Sounds good to be able to vote for a whole bunch but how many of the second, third or more others we put numbers behind are throw away numbers. Maybe Bill could answer such questions. The STV video showing those little piles of votes being handed over to choice 2 and beyond means my vote might get somewhere but I'm not too sure after watching that little excercise of number shuffling. Sure a computer can do the crunching. I still wonder if either method fits the bill. Maybe that's why so many folks have tuned out provincial elections which is not that good an idea either.

Bill Tieleman said...

To Chris and Wayne - I appreciate your advocacy of STV and your comments are as always most welcome!

However....Chris - parties will still choose candidates - but now they will have a roster of candidates and name recognition will be the primary consideration.

John van Dongen would still be nominated under STV - because of his prominence - good or bad.

No safe seats? You simply cannot have looked at Ireland my friend.

Irish politicians have some of the safest seats in the entire world!

As the Irish Times newspaper recently said:

"Irish politics has one thing in common with Cuba – some of the most resilient political leaders in the world."

Yikes! Cuba? What happened to no safe seats Chris?

And for Wayne, I ask the same question - explain the ability of Irish politicians under STV to stay in power longer than the working lives of most of us!

Here's a direct quote from the Irish Examiner newspaper of April 21, 2009 on the "long service bonus" that is given to TDs - the Irish members of the Dail, their parliament.

"TDs serving 10 years or more in the Dáil receive an annual increment of €6,400 on top of their basic pay of €100,000. Those with between seven and 10 years’ service qualify for an increment of €3,200.

In the budget, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said: "Deputies will no longer receive long-service payments or increments."

But controversy arose when it emerged last week that the 72 sitting TDs already in receipt of increments would not be stripped of them."

There you have it Wayne - 72 of the 166 TDs or members of the Irish parliament - are eligible for the "long service bonus."

So much for no safe seats, my friend - almost half of them are safe seats!

As I've often said - check the real fact - don't rely on the claims of the STV proponent - or of myself - I have no fear of anyone looking at the real story.

Anonymous said...

Bill - what if the ballot had 2 choices, and you HAD to choose - which would you vote for?

1- Gordon Campbell

2- STV

Anonymous said...

With first past the post, parties have full control and local MLAs have no power.

Who knows whether party discipline would be maintained under STV. It can only get better.

At least with STV, it cuts down the huge variance between votes and seats. If we are electing talking heads, we should at least get the number somewhat right.

STV combines the best of first past the post (all MLAs are directly elected) with fair results provided other electoral systems.

Lets give STV a try. What's the worst that could happen?

We lived through Glen Clark, Vanderzalm and a Liberal Government with 97% of the seats.

We've had minority governments in Ottawa (one brought us universal healthcare, and the current one is certainly better than a Harper majority.).

I figure the worst that could happen would be that politicians actually behave and politics becomes boring.

Anonymous said...

If another voting system can get us past this endless right/left march, then I am for it. Polarizion makes for crazy politics in BC and stops us from improving our province.

I'm sick of FPTP and am willing to try STV.

BustaGrill said...


You raise some very valid concerns about STV, but you completely fail to convince me that with STV we be worse off than with the current system that has left BC in a political cesspool since 1996 with no end in sight. Something has to change, and fast.

And how is Ireland's "long service bonus" for TDs relevant? Are we holding a referendum on providing our MLAs with a similar benefit? It seems to me you're building up a straw man to knock down.

I'm tired of not being able to vote Green because my vote will be wasted, I'm tired of having to hold my nose and vote for the NDP, and I'm tired of NDP hacks dressing up self-interested arguments against STV in misleading rhetoric.

Seems to me that if STV had passed the last election, we'd be looking a very good chance of seeing an NDP-Green coalition government. As is stands the NDP will likely lose, and the Greens will not elect a single seat. That sucks.

Chris said...

There is only one way to answer all the hypothetical points for and against STV, and that is to give STV a try.

Anonymous said...

Bill Tieleman is using some good evidence about Ireland's party
control, which we can learn from. It is a pleasure to see some real
arguments for once but the balance of evidence from Ireland is decisive in favor of STV.

When STV was first introduced in 1922 to Ireland, the two main parties banded together to nullify the result by adopting a panel of
candidates. They also issued a joint manifesto against any other
With First Past The Post, this would have rendered the rest of the candidates as wasted votes. But with STV in multi-member constituencies, the Irish voters were able to prefer individual pro or anti-treaty candidates so that they were proportionly represented
decisively on the issue of the Irish treaty on Independence, and the people's decision was upheld.

From the start, Ireland has had independent MPs with STV, tho almost unknown with FPTP.
The major party came to resent its lack of false majorities of seats
with FPTP, enjoyed by the two main British parties. Fortunately, this
eventuality had been foreseen and STV-PR's evident fairness had got it safeguarded by referendum.
The Irish people twice supported STV and even the supporters of the larger party in the mainly rural western Ireland did not support a supplementary question whether they wanted smaller single member constituencies.

The biggest Irish party has whittled down the seats per constituency and reduced proportionality to inflate their representation. But BC-STV would be significantly more proportional than STV in Ireland now.
The continued Irish popularity of STV prevents further party initiatives getting beyond the select committee stage. They can't win another referendum.

STV opponents point out that BC is huge compared to Ireland. Ireland
is huge compared to ancient Athens but democracy does not have to give way to oligarchy and dictatorship on any scale of representation. It is the accuracy of the measure of representation that is decisive and this is what STV gives far better than any other system.
That is as well as the efficiency of modern communications that even
makes a federation like Canada possible. And there are possible levels of government for any degree of locality you want. The argument is bogus that locality is more important than election so that you have to reduce choice to a monopolistic constituency.

The preliminary Plant report of the British Labour party rejected STV precisely on the basis of figures of the turn-over of Irish MPs of the same party replacing each other. I suspect this is what is meant by Bill Tieleman's quoted nastiness of Irish politics. It is an expression of disapproval of intra-party as well as extra-party competition. The party high command want to control who of their candidates gets elected. It is certainly why the Plant report recommended a selection of any other prominent voting method but STV.
The rest is history. As I like to repeat: Britain has half a dozen
undemocratic voting methods where STV would do. (The 2007 Scottish
local STV elections escaped London's censorious jurisdiction.)

The fact is that typical STV candidates must reach beyond votes of party supporters and that makes STV more unitive than the two-party system or the dogmaticly partisan list systems, including MMP.

Richard Lung.
Democracy Science.

Anonymous said...

Yah, we would lose representation.

I am already dissatisfied with the service I get from my MLA. Unreturned phone calls; 30 days to give lame answers to letters.

As I write, the NDP refuses to put Rich Coleman to task for his use of a Corrections database to exclude persons from public housing. That ex cop allows current cops to control where people live.

And now that Coleman is SG again, why the hell is the media silent on his perverse opposition - hell, call it Obstruction - to the Frank Paul Inquiry. Useful material has come out of that process. Coleman should be nailed to the wall on that.


I like you and agree with most of your opinions, but you are SOFT on Rich Coleman. Was your dad a cop?

Anonymous said...

I am saying a resounding YES to STV. Our current archaic system is non-democratic and must be changed.