Sunday, September 16, 2007

Single Transferable Vote proposal for BC would be a disaster, electoral maps show

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday August 28, 2007

The stupidity of single transfer


The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid.

- Journalist Art Spander

Imagine an electoral voting system so complicated, so disliked and so obscure that only two countries in the world - both tiny islands - use it for their national elections.

Imagine British Columbia following in the footsteps of Malta and Ireland.

And imagine a system where all of B.C. would have just 20 giant electoral districts instead of the current 79, with up to six members of the Legislative Assembly per riding.

Then imagine that B.C. voters might seriously adopt it for our own elections.

Stupid? You bet, but B.C. will decide on whether to adopt the single transferable vote or STV system in a May 12, 2009 referendum run concurrent with the next provincial election.

B.C. voters didn't think enough of STV in the 2005 referendum to give the required 60 per cent approval to implement this bad idea, suggested by the Citizens Assembly. Unfortunately, it came close enough that Premier Gordon Campbell is holding a second referendum.

But fortunately, the B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission has provided what was missing in the last referendum - an STV riding map so every voter can see exactly what STV would look like.

It's not a pretty picture. In fact, it should be enough evidence for anyone who cares about how we vote to flatly reject it.

For example, Ireland is a small place with a population of four million people. Yet Ireland under STV has 166 elected representatives spread over 70,000 square kilometres.

B.C. has 4.3 million people but is a large province of 948,000 square kilometres and under STV, B.C. would have 81 MLAs.

That means on average an Irish politician represents an area of 422 square kilometres while under STV on average a B.C. politician would represent an area of 11,703 square kilometres.


Now, of course, those are only averages and in Vancouver and other urban centres riding sizes under STV would be much smaller.

But that also means under STV northern and interior ridings would be positively enormous.

Take the proposed B.C. STV riding of Northeast. It would have two MLAs and a size of - wait for it - 274,752 square kilometres! That means just one riding with two MLAs is nearly four times bigger than all of Ireland with its 166 members!

And the new riding map shows several other gigantic ridings that are simply unmanageable for MLAs.

Of course, STV advocates dare not suggest doubling our legislature to 166 members but it's obvious that STV just doesn't work for large geographic areas.

There's much more wrong with STV and I will write about it in the months ahead of the referendum.

Meanwhile, I am on vacation - back on Tuesday, Sept. 18.


Budd Campbell said...

To be frank, I don't know why this column has been brought forward now. Really, the discussion has moved on to the appropriate number of MLAs, however elected, and the matter of protecting rural and northern representation.

Consider just two cases, BC and Alberta. Alberta has 83 MLAs for a population of 3.29 million according to the 2006 Census, implying an electoral quotient of 39.6 thousand people per Member. If BC had the same quotient our House would contain 104 MLAs for our 4.11 million people, and there would be no problem keeping the number of MLAs for the North or the Kootenays at least as high as it is now.

It has always struck me as a bit telling that BC's outhouse populist politicians can whip themselves into a lather over the way in which BC's representation in Ottawa is somehow unsufficient, and can then turn around and under-represent BC voters in their own Legislature! Obviously, it's just a bloody big game for these people, a game of heads they win, tails the public loses.

Anonymous said...

Hurray! Billy at his best! Comes out of vacation just enough to spew another set of lies and misinformation, then quickly disappears.
Billy, you're the cream of the crop of abject politicos.

Anonymous said...

"That means on average an Irish politician represents an area of 422 square kilometres while under STV on average a B.C. politician would represent an area of 11,703 square kilometres" Bill Tileman

This is the part about STV I don’t understand. How and who decides what specific area an MLA elected under STV will represent? If the majority of the STV MLA’s are elected from the larger cities with more voters; as they conceivably would be, who would decide to represent the rural areas that have few votes ?

And would it not make sense for all of the STV MLA’s to continue to serenade the bigger cites where all the votes are ? I just don’t get how STV would accommodate the rural regions of any big STV region. Am I missing something Bill ?

Anonymous said...

I sent this in as a letter to the editor, but it didn't get published:

Bill Tieleman (The stupidity of single transfer vote) gets all worked up about the proposed Northeast district having only two MLAs for 275,000 square kilometres, but seems to think it's perfectly okay for the single member Northland riding to be 255,000 square kilometres; I don't see any big difference here - why is it easier for one MLA to cover Northland than for two to cover the Northeast? The Northeast is also the same size as the Peace River federal riding which is covered by a single MP.

In any case, as we all know, size isn't the only thing that matters. If Tieleman had bothered to consult the Electoral Boundaries Commission's map showing where people actually live, he'd have realized that close to 90% of the 65,000 people in the Northeast district live along 100 km of Highway 97 between Fort St. John and Dawson Creek. There are another 6000 people up near Fort Nelson, and only 1000 people in the province's northwest sector. Since MLAs represent people, not trees, almost 90% of the voters will be within an hour's drive of both MLAs.

What really matters, of course, is quality of representation. With First Past the Post, only half the voters get the MLA they voted for. With STV, on average 80-90% of voters will have an MLA they specifically support. Even in the biggest ridings Tieleman worries about, the seats will be competitive and all districts will likely be represented by both government and opposition MLAs. If Tieleman focused on performance rather than size, he'd see why the Citizens' Assembly was so strongly in favour of STV.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2: Re: your excellent question about why candidates and MLAs will pay attention to smaller places.

To get elected under STV, you need to win about 20,000 votes on average (less up north). Within a given district, a vote in the city is worth just as much as one in the country. If you blow off Fort Nelson (to use Bill's example of the Northeast), you've just blown off 3000 votes.

Suppose the Liberals think that they can win both seats in the Northeast. One of these candidates might be able to collect their votes from the area around Dawson Creek and Fort St. John alone, but if the second Liberal candidate has also stuck in town while an NDP candidate has courted Fort Nelson, the NDP will likely win those votes. Only if the second Liberal candidate went to the outlying regions will they stand a chance of getting elected as well. That's why STV will make sure that there will be elected MLAs paying attention to all parts of the province.

As for which areas an MLA represents, any voter can go to any MLA from a district, but they will likely feel a particular affinity for the one they helped elect. An MLA knows from the poll results where they did well, and hence where their primary support came from. They'll naturally concentrate on those areas to consolidate their support there and position them for re-election. That's how STV makes MLAs more responsive and accountable.

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks for the comments and glad to be back blogging!

To Budd - this column came out because the BC Electoral Boundaries Commission report showed for the first time what STV ridings would look like. As to comparisons with Alberta, Budd makes an interesting point but I personally support the Boundaries Commission report and don't see the need for far more MLAs than at present.

The first Anonymous comment is typically devoid of any content and merely attacks me without specifics, so it's impossible to respond and hardly worthwhile.

The second Anonymous comment is right on - there is no commitment to represent specific areas in a multi-member riding.

And of course any politician with half a brain would realize that campaigning and servicing the larger centres where the votes are is the only way to get elected and re-elected.

The short answer is that no STV-elected politician is responsible for anything other than the entire riding - or more precisely, those voters that elected him in the first place - and that is a problem.

As for Antony Hodgson's indefatigable defence of STV - and I do admire it - there is no way you can empirically state that "on average 80-90% of voters will have an MLA they specifically support."

In a two-member riding, the likelihood is overwhelming that the dominant party will take both seats. It requires a large number of voters to vote one Liberal and one NDP, for example, to elect two members from different parties.

Antony avoids my other argument - that STV is not proportional when the district magnitude - the number of MLAs to be elected - is low.

I also challenge Antony's claim that 90% of the riding's voters will be within 1 hours drive of one of the MLAs! Geez Antony, I can't even get across Vancouver to Surrey in less than an hour most days!

But keep slugging and I'll keep responding - I enjoy the debate.

Bill Tieleman said...

Antony truly is tireless in his advocacy for STV - his comment came in while I was formulating my own response to his earlier posting!

Unfortunately, Antony is quick but wrong.

Using his own example, if there were 10,000 urban votes and 5,000 rural and the Liberal candidates got most of those urban votes, they would elect BOTH members - not one. The NDP or other party candidate would have to get all the rural votes and a substantial number of urban votes to win even one of the seats.

The reality of STV in Malta - one of the two countries that use STV in national elections - is that voters are very party oriented and do not split their votes. As a result, Malta has not elected a third party candidate since the 1950s.

Gee, I wonder if voters in BC are similarly partisan?

So to be totally clear, if there are 50,000 voters in a riding and most of them are die-hard supporters of one party, that party should win all the seats - period.

If you want proportionality - not my preference but I understand the intention - then you want Mixed Member Proportional, as Ontario will vote on next month - not STV.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,

Nice to have you back.

Of course I can say that under STV at least 80% of voters will have an MLA they specifically support. The percentage of voters who have an MLA they specifically voted for will depend, in part, on the final district magnitude chosen by the Electoral Boundaries Commission. We know that for First Past the Post, on average only about 50% of voters have voted for their MLA. With 87 seats available, the average district magnitude is likely to be between 4 and 5. With a magnitude of 4, 80% of the votes go directly towards electing the four winners in a district, while many of the remaining ballots will have named one of the people already elected. If the DM approaches 5, 83.3% of the votes will directly elect one of the winners. In seven-seaters, 88% of the votes will directly elect one of the winners. Even in the two-seaters, 67% of the votes will directly elect one of the winners, so FPTP loses in all cases.

You're wrong about two-member ridings as well. Contrary to what you said, voters don't have to list one NDP and one Liberal to split the seats - you just have to have the NDP voters voting NDP and vice versa. In the Northeast in 2005 (ie, the two Peace River ridings), the Liberals had 58% of the vote, vs 30% for the NDP and 8% for the Greens. The Liberals would have sewn up one seat with 33% of the vote, but then the second seat would be a contest between the remaining 25% of the vote held by the Liberals, the 30% held by the NDP, and the 8% held by the Greens. I'd bet that the Green votes would transfer largely to the NDP. It might be close, but at least that second seat is competitive (unlike the way it is now where the NDP might as well not bother). Geez, Bill, it's hard to believe that you support the NDP - without STV, they'll never win a seat up there. Must be discouraging to your supporters in the Peace to realize that you party hacks in the south don't actually want them to ever elect an NDP MLA. It's a wonder you get any volunteers out at all.

It's rich that you would accuse me of avoiding your argument about proportionality - I'd never shy away from an argument about the proportionality of STV and you still haven't answered my challenge on your previous blog posting [] that STV is far more proportional than FPTP (and comparable to MMP, which is not perfect either by virtue of the party thresholds and absence of overhang provisions, if applicable). Sure, the local proportionality of STV is affected by district magnitude, but that's a concession made at the request of the northern residents of the Citizens' Assembly because of the physical size of the province. Given the point of the article you've just written, I would have thought you of all people would have understood this. In any case, there are likely going to be only 5-10% of seats provincewide that are in small districts and provincewide proportionality is going to be excellent.

Are you seriously arguing that FPTP is more proportional than STV? Even in the two-seater example we were just looking at, over 41% of the voters were disappointed under FPTP, while no more than 33% would be disappointed under STV. Provincewide, where the district magnitudes are much larger, there's no contest. Come on, admit that STV is far more proportional than FPTP. It'll do your heart good.

Technically, I didn't say that 90% of the voters will be within an hour's drive of their MLAs - I said that 90% of the voters in the proposed Northeast region are within a few km of the 100 km stretch of highway between Dawson Creek and Fort St. John. My point was really that even in this extremely large riding that you're so concerned about, the people are actually in pretty close proximity to one another - just check out the EBC's dot map if you don't believe me []. Your argument is a red herring. It's clear that you could add the 40 million square kilometres of the moon to the riding and not affect how easy it is for constituents to contact their MLAs.

As for Bill's second response to me, he's wrong again. If there were 10,000 urban voters and 5000 rural voters, the Liberals would have to win ALL the urban votes to win both seats. We all know that even in the most pro-Liberal ridings, they'll only take 65-70% of the votes (eg, West Van/Capilano at 68%), so they'll be a good 3000 votes shy if they stick in the urban areas. The NDP will likely have 2500-3000 votes from the urban area of the 5000 they need altogether and can lock up the seat by paying special attention to the rural areas. This should be easy if the Liberals can be criticized for sticking close to the major towns. Under FPTP, the Liberals can easily stick to town because they just have to win a plurality; this is dead simple in the Peace area where they have such a strong advantage anyway - they could almost blow off all 5000 rural votes altogether and still win with 7000 urban votes (assuming a few folks vote for the Greens and other miscellaneous parties). Nope, it's STV that motivates parties to pay attention to every corner of the province.

As for political culture, I'd wager that BC is a lot more like Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand or the US (ie, other places where STV is used) than like Malta. Remember that the Greens are also a factor here in BC and that voters do shift alliances between the NDP and the Liberals, hard as that is for a diehard supporter such as yourself to understand. That drop in Liberal support from 57% to 46% last time was a shift back towards the NDP, not just to other small parties. With STV's emphasis on candidates, I'd expect many voters to be willing to cast a vote for an attractive candidate from the other party (perhaps one who seems willing to put the interests of their constituents ahead of their party?). As I've pointed out above, the benefits of STV apply whether or not Liberal and NDP supporters are willing to cross-rank candidates - everything I've argued has assumed that voters are only ranking candidates of a single party (except for the Greens, who are motivated to rank someone from one of the two major parties because they're unlikely to have enough support to elect one of their own in the two seater districts.

I find your comment about parties' rights to sweeps quite strange. Are you arguing that if we had a single provincewide district and the Liberals got 50% + 1 vote, you believe they're entitled to all the seats? I don't think you'd find many people agreeing with you. At the very least, I'd have thought all the NDP supporters in the Okanagan and the Fraser Valley and around Prince George might like you to support them getting an NDP MLA sometime.

Anonymous said...

For Immediate Release:

Bill Tieleman, founder and spokesperson for Know-STV, has found a major flaw in BC-STV. Newfangled electoral system presupposes that British Columbia's voters are at least as intelligent as the Irish.

"If you've ever tasted Irish whiskey, as I do before writing my articles, you will know that the Irish are intellectually superior and it would be wrong to try and introduce a complicated voting system that requires voters to rank the candidates from 1,2,3," thought Tieleman, as he authored his latest rant.

"Most voters have trouble counting to 5, so as soon as we get ridings with 6 seats available, we risk alienating pre-schoolers. The fact that kids cannot vote is irrelevant to the argument."

Tieleman also pointed out that Ireland and Malta are the only countries to only use STV.

"If you look at Australia's Senate elections, even though it is an STV system, they don't call it STV so the system must be obscure."

Tieleman also pointed out that while an increasing number of local governments in Scotland, New Zealand and even the US have adopted STV in the last 10 years, there are over a billion people in China who don't use STV.

"If China does not want electoral reform, why should BC?"

Anonymous said...


Tieleman condemns new riding map as unfair to lazy MLAs and those who don't know how to use the internet

"By grouping together ridings, this system unfairly requires MLAs to work more than a few weeks each year," though Tieleman.

"If constituents were represented by 5 or 6 MLAs, it will be difficult for lazy politicians to convince voters to vote for them. Our political system is based on ignoring the will of the voters. Imagine if even one of these MLAs actually visited remote towns, they would steal votes away from the candidate with the glossy brochures delivered by mail and expensive TV ads."

Tieleman pointed out that the last things British Columbians want was MLAs who actually cared or tried to reach out to people.

"If we had large ridings, imagine all of the money we would have to spend on teaching politicians to use things like email and blogs."

The current system is simple. An MLA gets to set up an office, put their name on a sign, never show up, and pretend they are representing the community.

A fictional MLA expressed a similar sentiment.

"Under STV, who gets to put their name on the sign? The last thing we want is to share our office with another MLA. If we put voters first it means we are putting MLAs second."

G West said...

I see the STV faithful are quick off the mark - could we have some more discussion about the parallels between Ireland and British Columbia please?

Paying special attention to religious and ethnic issues.

Anonymous said...

Grice and Hodgson have, among other manias, a devout love for this infernal STV nonsense that seems to plague the part-time employed, with full-time folly. Too much time on your hands, lads!

For all the reasons Bill so eloquently told, STV is a massive mistake for this Province.

Hodgson either can't do math or hasn't studied voter turnout in the hinterland of this Province in particular,if he's going to stick to this "80%" fallacy.

Move on Bill. Welcome home, sorry I didn't get back to you over the weekend. Busy with the kids.

Anonymous said...

Bill, I haven't studied the STV proposal in as much detail as you, so I defer to your editorializing on the matter. However, I think your argument would be more powerful if you attempted to offer an alternative, if, that is, you believe an alternative to or variation of STV exists, rather than simply dismiss the idea as 'stupid'.

The closeness of the vote on the issue last election is clear evidence that there's a thirst for electoral reform, something more democratic than our century-old, seemingly outdated parliamentary system. The numbers of people who consistently don't vote in general elections is further evidence that the electoral status quo needs change.

I happen to believe that some kind of PR is crucial to the democratization and evolution of our "democracy" in Canada.

What say you?

Mark Crawford said...

Australia is not a tiny island--it is , in terms of geography, culture, law and institutions just about the most relevant example to Canada that you can find. Perhaps the Australian Senate elections don't count as "national elections" for Mr. Tielman, but there is no great movement afoot in Australia to end STV.

Ireland is not entirely irrelevant as a comparable jurisdiction to British Columbia in terms of its population and the size of its economy--which is the biggest success story in the world outside of Asia.

I think that the issue of northern representation is a difficult one for BC-STV, but as Nick Loenen points out, this could work to the advantage of Northern and rural areas, which would be likely have a disproportionately larger proportion of their members belonging to the largest (governing) parties.

Finally, BC-STV would almost certainly be more representative of the population than the current system.

In sum, BC-STV merits serious consideration. If it is not certainly better, it is certainly not "stupid".

G West said...

I think the big problem with STV - and the reason why it is inappropriate to consider Ireland as a good model - has to do with the diversity of the BC population as well as the size and character of our resource based economy and what that means for the rural/urban dichotomy. Also, the opportunities for special interests to use STV to advance totally local issues in the legislature to the detriment of the province as a whole (and particularly the north and parts of the interior) just can't be ignored.

I think the Ontario result - re MMP - in the upcoming referendum, will be interesting. I wish there were some way that this whole issue could be disconnected from the full and part-time promoters who've turned it into a full-time job. The reaction of anonymous 2:31pm is pretty typical.

All that said, bad as it is, I think STV might just be a little better than the current nonsense.

I don't think the Australian Senate is much of a parallel though Mark.

Budd Campbell said...

"As to comparisons with Alberta, Budd makes an interesting point but I personally support the Boundaries Commission report and don't see the need for far more MLAs than at present."

Bill "doesn't see the need for far more MLAs than at present". This strikes me as a totally opaque, almost obscurantist response.

Just tell me, Bill, what formula or method should be used to determine the appropriate total number of MLAs in the BC Legislature? If a comparison with Alberta is not relevant, the province closest to us in both geography and total population, what on earth is?

Another point that should be learned from Alberta is that their redistricting statute requires the commission to take into account Aboriginal and Minority populations. That's a consideration which is completely ignored in the never-ending STV debates here in BC, and I cannot help thinking that this is the way both sides want it.

Debating STV is a way of sweeping aside basic issues around size of the assembly and serious matters like Aboriginal and Minority representation. If those matters did come to the fore, they might disturb certain elements in either the left-wing or right-wing populist voting coalition.

Bill Tieleman said...

Quite the debate - although I suspect most ordinary folks aren't reading it!

Budd - the BC Electoral Boundaries Commission had a mandate from the government on a maximum number of seats they could add - up to six. They deliberated and recommended two.

The average riding would have 50,784 voters.

I'm not sure exactly how many voters there are in Alberta but there are 83 ridings, so it's close to our own number.

The short answer is that I trust the Commission's research on this and again don't believe we need a lot more MLAs. More on this and Gordon Campbell's sophisticated gerrymandering efforts to add Liberal MLAs under the guise of protecting northern interests soon.

I am unable to respond at length to all the comments here but let me try to summarize my position:

I do not support proportional representation - I believe First Past The Post is the best electoral system. Please do not bother trying to convince me otherwise here! Just accept.

If however, I was forced to choose another electoral system, I would have to go with Mixed Member Proportional over STV any day. But I don't want perpetual minority governments, endless backroom deals, unlimited party favours and a host of other problems that any PR system would bring.

Dan Grice, I prefer single malt scotch and small batch bourbon to Irish whiskey anyway - if there's a really good Irish whiskey please let me know.

Mark Crawford - Australia's Senate is not the big show. I acknowledge that it is used there for Senate elections but so what? Ireland and Malta are still the only countries using STV for national elections.

Again I recommend the KNOW STV website for more info on this topic -

Anonymous said...

I'd never try to persuade you, Bill. I'd just like you to say why you like FPTP so much and whether you also find problematic the things about FPTP that others find problematic (Did you really think it was just fine that the Liberals won 97% of the seats in 2001? Does it bother you that two similar parties can split the vote and allow a candidate from a party disliked by 70% of the people in the riding to become its rep? Do you think it's okay for whole regions of the province to not have an opposition MLA even though there are tens of thousands of opposition supporters there (eg, the Okanagan or the Prince George area)?).

I also don't get why you dismiss Mark's point - after all, last time I checked, BC wasn't a country either, so why isn't use of STV at non-national levels relevant to BC?

Bill Tieleman said...

Antony I'm happy to explain. I believe First Past The Post is clear, simple and easy to understand - the candidate with the most votes wins.

FPTP also forces parties to appeal to the most voters possible - not be extreme in their positions and then have a chokehold balance of power position - something we've seen with religious parties and extreme left and right parties in countries like Israel and Italy under pro-rep systems.

Occasionally - like in 2001 in BC - FPTP has produced strong imbalances but that too is an encouragement to parties to not lose touch with voters. And those anomaly elections are rare and then a balance returns, as it did in 2005.

I understand your point - but you want a game where everyone wins and that's not realistic in my view.

What happens with constant minorities through pro-rep systems is that dealmaking, backroom maneuvering and other tricks end up dominating politics.

As to Mark's point, if STV were such a great system dozens of countries would use it. STV has been around since the 1920s at least and still only Malta and Ireland use it as their national electoral systems. The point is that it simply isn't a good model and the world's democracies have clearly recognized that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill. We met in Prince George at the BCR meeting.

I live in Vanderhoof. I am one of those communities which if BC-STV or any variant of that retarded prorep lunicy is accepted, will be ignored forever.

I don't want it and won't just roll over and accept it.

Besides riding sizes. STV and PR regarless which is chosen, do not change the fundemental flaw in our electoral system.
1.MLA's are accountable to the leader and the crown. Not those who voted for an MLA in the first place.
2. MLA's are out of control. And neither the Liberals or the NDP or even the greens are going to cooperate in wresting control away from the MLA's. For they all lust for power.

When Mike Harcourt took power from the Socreds, he was also handed a noxious referendum result that required him to present recall and initiative legislation.
After much deliberation, we have recall with rediculously difficult rules and very high thresh holds that make a recall a virtual impossibility. And initiative legislation that is nonbinding and totally worthless or the BCR would never have been sold to CN, as just one example.
Until such time as the voters become the last word on any law,statute,or regulation, there is no point voting for a system where much of governance is hidden from the voters all together.
STV and PR are moronic at best for any rural area.
I am here.

Mark Crawford said...

A great many of the people most critical of BC-STV and most enamoured with SMP are former political operatives and premiers with a certain nostalgia for how well decisions have been made in the past--Bennett, Barrett, Clark, Spector, Plecas, Tielman. This is not surprising; BC-STV is not designed with the preferences of the political class in mind.

My own view, reflecting on the growing diversity of the population, the growing volatility of the electorate, the declining voter turnout, and the excesses of Bennett in the early 80s, VanderZalm in the late 80s, Clark in the late 90s, Campbell in 2001-2003, and the cockamame election results of 1996 and 2001, is that it would be extremely desireable to raise the bar needed for a majority government, even if it led to more minority governments, because it would force politicians to consider the views of more people (and consult more meaningfully with them) and, on average, it would lead to better policies. Given our more educated and fickle electorate, the "winner take all" plurality vote has become a hard sell.

The tyranny of small parties is a typical feature of systems with a high degree of PR. As long as the increase in proportionality is measured--a modest dose of PR--the benefits should outwiegh costs and serve to invigorate our democracy. We can start by moving to a larger number of seats (at least 90), keeping 60-66 of them as single member districts. I discuss this possiblity--and debate it at length with a couple of BC-STV supporters--at

Of course, my preferred choice is not on the ballot in 2009, but right now I am leaning toward BC-STV as something that is preferable to the status quo and which can be relied upon to make the BC Legislature a much more represenative body.

Anonymous said...

Antony is correct when he says 33% +1 is all that is required for two people to elected under an STV. While I can understand the discounting of Australian Senate elections because that is not where government is formed, perhaps you would like to consider both the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmanian elections which use STV (the Hare-Clarke variation).
Mike Summers - the Australian experience is that an STV is actually a good way to keep the elected members under control because with election you get a choice of party members to select, and if you dislike the way someone has acted over the intervening period you place further down the list. This sort of thing has resulted in a high turnover in Tasmania.
Bill, I'm not sure why you are talking about a Liberal party gerrymander in conjunction with a STV process as it is a practical impossibility as most populations have a 30-40-30 split with middle 40 swinging, a clean sweep is most unlikely.
"I believe First Past The Post is clear, simple and easy to understand - the candidate with the most votes wins."
So is any preferential system, and they cope with more than two candidates.
"FPTP also forces parties to appeal to the most voters possible - not be extreme in their positions and then have a chokehold balance of power position"
Two points:
1. STV's give the most numbers to mainstream parties in any case, and
2. Balance of Power positions only work if the rest of the chamber backs you up!
Occasionally - like in 2001 in BC -" FPTP has produced strong imbalances but that too is an encouragement to parties to not lose touch with voters"
All electoral processes can produce strong imbalances, with a preferential system in place you can at least give fair warning to the Government of the day or leave a decent sized opposition. FPTP is an all or nothing proposition.

Anonymous said...

Bill, all else being equal, I'll grant you that simplicity is a virtue. A pen is a remarkably simple way to write, but virtually all of us use a word processor now because it's far more powerful and useful. When it was initially unfamiliar, there was some resistance to learning to use it, but it quickly became obvious that the payoffs were well worth the initial investment. That's how I feel about STV - easy to learn, and worth the 5-10 minute investment to overcome unfamiliarity.

I also understand your motivation in trotting out the Israel/Italy examples, but you well know that their problems arise from a combination of hyperproportionalism and conflict-ridden cultures. These two countries are as relevant to the debate about STV as Zimbabwe is as the model for how First Past the Post operates. In any case, with its requirement that third parties get in the range of 8-12% first ballot support to be able to win a seat, STV is far from the 0.5-2% thresholds needed to win seats in Italy and Israel.

Anomalous elections in BC are not rare - they're the norm. In the 29 elections since 1903, two thirds (19) have produced false majorities, and 3 have produced 'wrong winners' (governing parties with fewer votes than their opposition). Three elections have given the winning party over 90% of the seats on under 60% of the vote. On average, the leading party has won less than 46% of the vote, but won 2/3 of the seats. Third parties continually founder, rather than being stable enough to have the legislative influence their supporters deserve. You can call this balance, but I call it unreasonable.

I don't think it's at all unrealistic to want fair representation - that's the basis of representative democracy. At heart and in principle, forming a government is the responsibility of the legislature. 'Winning' is how the parties themselves think about things. Most citizens want their government to be a place of discussion, debate and civic engagement.

As for the charge of backroom deals, STV will actually bring the current backroom deals out into the light because the junior partner has to show its supporters that it mattered, so it has to get public credit for its agreements. FPTP, with its tendency to produce majorities with limited scrutiny by the opposition produces situations like the Basi-Virk/BC Rail travesty. Check out Boston's 2003 academic study showing the benefits of MMP in improving the quality of New Zealand legislation (Australian Journal of Public Administration 62(4), 7–22).

Finally, STV is used in many countries - Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, India, etc., and is the main system being proposed as an alternative for the UK parliament. The well-known political scientist Lijphart explained that list PR is much more attractive to established parties, who normally control election system design. BC is the first jurisdiction where ordinary people have been given the chance to choose our electoral system, and they chose STV.

Mark, well said.

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks once again to poster for a spirited debate - no one can ever accuse STV advocates of not being energetic!

But wrongheaded? Well, here I go again.

First of all, it's misleading to say STV produces "representative democracy" while FPTP does not.

FPTP holds a series of elections in single ridings and the winners of all those elections form a government and opposition. STV or other pro-rep systems are a different electoral system but all are democratic.

What STV advocates want is a more direct reflection of province-wide popular vote percentages. Often that's because the parties they support cannot win a single riding - like the Green Party - but do have a thin level of support province-wide that would give them a few seats under pro-rep.

Fair enough - and in many countries it's done that way, resulting in endless minority governments and numerous political parties that represent, in some cases, very narrow interests.

I'm not surprised that STV advocates don't like to hear about Italy or Israel - or Malta and Ireland but the facts remain that many countries have fractured, convoluted politics because they have many parties represented through pro-rep systems.

I encourage readers to take up Antony's suggestion and research New Zealand politics since MMP was introduced - the horsetrading and backroom deals to form government and take positions is enormously entertaining - and very frustrating to many New Zealanders.

And voter participation has not increased either.

Anonymous said...

Bill, I'm always happy to talk about Malta and Ireland, but I do wish you'd talk about Australia and Scotland as well. As I mentioned before, I don't see what relevance Italy and Israel has. You might as well use China as an example of what could happen in Canada if we stay with FPTP - different system, different culture - what's the similarity? If you're going to talk about countries that use list or MMP versions of PR, why not talk about Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, etc? These all seem far more relevant to Canada than Italy and Israel.

Also, don't twist my words. I didn't say that FPTP doesn't produce representation - I said that it doesn't produce fair representation, at least not according to my definition. I don't believe I'm well represented by someone who shares none of my political or philosophical values. With FPTP, I'm stuck being represented by the person my neighbours pick, not the one I pick. If I'm not mistaken, you live in Campbell's riding - do you really believe he fairly represents your interests and beliefs in the legislature? Wouldn't you rather have an NDP MLA representing you?

Re: New Zealand. Nice to see that all the wheeling and dealing is done in the open. Prof. Boston (mentioned earlier) points out how legislation has been improved by taking into account a wider range of views. In surveys post the first MMP elections in Scotland and Wales in 1999, roughly 63% of voters expressing an opinion were supportive of the change.

Bill Tieleman said...

Antony - take a good look at this very recent poll from New Zealand before you dig in on this one:

Scoop Politics

Strong Support For Referendum On MMP

Tuesday, 28 August 2007, 9:58 am
Press Release: Graeme Hunt
Opinion Poll Shows Strong Support For Referendum On MMP

More than two out of three New Zealanders (68%) want a referendum to be held on the future of the MMP voting system, according to an independent nationwide opinion poll commissioned by Auckland journalist and author Graeme Hunt.

The poll, conducted between August 2 and August 6 by UMR Research, gives the mixed-member proportional system a slight lead over first past the post (42% to 39%) with 15% of respondents unsure which system to back.

Thirty-two per cent say MMP has had a positive impact on New Zealand compared with 19% who say it has been negative.

Forty- three per cent of those polled have a neutral opinion on MMP.

Mr Hunt, a long-time opponent of MMP, said the poll was the surest indication yet that New Zealanders wanted another say on the voting system.

"After four elections under MMP, fewer than one in three electors considers MMP to be positive," he said. "I have no doubt that if a poll were held today a majority of New Zealanders would vote for change."

He said he expected support for his preferred option, first past the post, would increase in the run-up to a referendum.

"At the end of the day, the most important issue is to give the electors a choice. People thought there would be a referendum on the voting system down the track but electoral law doesn't provide for that.

"If New Zealand ended up with a supplementary member system - - say 80 MPs elected by first past the post with 20 elected proportionally - - or preferential voting as exists in Australia, then many first past the post supporters would be perfectly happy.

"What New Zealanders are unhappy with is the power MMP grants to small parties which are unable to win constituency seats. They don't want to see the tail wagging the dog as happened over the anti-smacking debate."

Mr Hunt said small parties had an important role in New Zealand politics and it was possible to provide for a degree of proportionality in a majoritarian voting system.

The poll is based on a nationally representative sample of 750 people aged 18 and over. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.6%. Details of the poll are attached.

Graeme Hunt is the author of Why MMP Must Go: The Case for Ditching the Electoral Disaster of the Century which was published in 1998.

Anonymous said...

Bill, Iam surprised that you are so stuck on FPTP. This system should have died with the Dodo bird. At one time, it was the way to go, but in this day and age, it has outlived its' usefullness. BC-STV may not be the "answer all" but it will be much more "representative" then what we now have. As for Isreal/Italy, they use Mixed Member Porportional, and NO, we do not need nor do we want their "Pizza" Parliaments. Another thing we do not need is MLAs' "chosen" from membership lists. that is exactly what Mixed Member Porportional is. Only a percentage of MLAs' are duly elected, the remainder are "chosen" from membership lists. Now just who do you think would be "chosen"? I know you read BCMary, do you think an STV elected legislature would have allowed the BC rail give-away? How about the gift to Western Forest Products, Tembec, etc. etc. Would we have foreign companies buying water rights on our rivers for Hydro projects. Would an STV elected legislature have allowed the sale of all our B.C. assests to foreign Corporate elites? Would the two elderly ladies protesting the Eagle Ridge Bluffs development have been sentenced to gaol time? Frankly, I do not think so. With the execption of the "Ladies" all of this has been done in secret, ie, Tilma. Could this have happened with an STV elected legislature? One more thing, that I found very disturbing, and that is your use of the word "stupid" to describe the work of 180? regular citizens of this Province who gave one year of their time and effort to make a recommendation. If they had believed as you, they would have recommended the status quo. Would you then have described them as being "brilliant"? You also speak as though the whole North and our area (South East) is as inhabited as the lower mainland. It sounds as though you have never ventured out of the lower mainland. Another thing I would appreciate your thoughts on is, "why did we have to meet a 60% base line when our country was about to separate on a 50 + 1% base line? Joey

Anonymous said...

One other thing you may wish to consider.
The Australian Capital Territory chose to use the Hare-Clarke STV, after an experience with the hyper-proportionality of the D'Hondt list system. At the referendum, we had a choice of either Single Member Electorates(using a preferential system) or the Hare-Clarke system. The main reason for not going down the single member route was that the ACT would turn into a one party state.
From Antony's comment about the routine massive disproportionality that is happening with FPTP in BC, it sounds as if a change to a single member preferential system would be a great improvement.

Anonymous said...

On a previous post you claimed that IRV is as disproportional FPTP. On Australian results, I don't think that can be true particularly because we never see the sort disproportionality you have cited in your BC results.
In fact, preferential voting (single member electorates) was used because it was apparent that under an FPTP system the conservative UAP and Country parties were unlikely to win against the Labor Party otherwise. In the federal House of Representatives, we effectively have three partys represented plus independents.

Bill Tieleman said...

Doctor - I will use your prescription to cure anyone of the notion that STV is not complicated!

Thanks for the info on the Hare-Clarke system vs the D'Hondt list - they may use it in Australia but it's all Greek to me.

Anonymous said...

from the voter's point of view, any preferential system (IRV,STV etc.) is simple - merely a case of ranking the candidates. It is the way counting is done by your electoral commission or equivalent that matters, and the extra effort there is worth it for a fair result.

Anonymous said...

Bill - interesting story. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. So, even in a country where you claim there has been so much turmoil related to a PR-type government and in a poll commissioned by a dedicated opponent of MMP, the people with a preference are still 52% in favour and 63% of those who have a feeling one way or another about the system feel that it's been positive for the country - sounds similar to Scotland and Wales, and definitely still a majority in favour of MMP. Two thirds favour a review referendum? Sounds reasonable to me - the CA here recommended a formal review after three election cycles. Maybe there would be some ways to tweak the system to make it better - keep the good and minimize the problems. Naturally, that would make it more like STV!

Doctor - I don't have a reference off the top of my head for my claim of similar (dis)proportionality for FPTP and IRV, but the contrasting results in the upper and lower house elections in Victoria last fall (see showed that STV was far more proportional than IRV. IRV does give one the satisfaction of voting for a third party that's unlikely to be elected without sacrificing influence on the outcome between the two major parties, but it rarely helps a third party candidate get elected - it's still focused on identifying the single candidate with the greatest support, which ends up leaving many voters unrepresented.

Alex Egerton said...

The STV will be a disaster for all Democraticaly minded citizens. I beleive that Carole James is at the center of this disaster that will bring the STV to BC because she has managed to stiffle all debate on the issue within the BC-NDP. Without strong opposition to the STV, citizens of BC will vote for it in 1 year durring the next series of Municipal Elections. ONLY 30% VOTE IN MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS !!!! This is not democracy in action.

Anonymous said...

Alex - don't sweat it. The referendum has been put off to the 2009 provincial elections.

Mark Crawford said...

The discussion of "IRV" and "Single-Member Preferential" sounds like the Alternative Vote (AV) that BC used in 1952 and 1953. It also sounds as though it was adopted in Australia for much the same reason as it was here: to keep Labour (what was then called the CCF in Canada) from getting into power.

The point about AV is that it is not proportional representation, although it does count as a form of "majoritarian" system. Jeffrey Simpson likes it as a model for the House of Commons, and I believe that Lord Jenkins recommended it for at least a portion of House of Commons seats in Britain.

Finally, I would like to point out that the crux of this whole debate is not about the abstract merits of these different systems , all of which have been debated for over a century. The real issue is whether the social context of the debate has changed so much as to greatly shift the weights of those arguments. There are at least six great social trends which suggest that indeed it has:

First, declining voter turnout. (From 75% to 60% federally in less than 20 years)Bill, you may not have seen an increase in the last New Zealand election, but the overall evidence from comparative political science is conclusive. Turnout is genreally significantly higher where there is a PR element in the electoral system.

Second, increased voter volatility. Again, it is apparent at provincial, national and international levels: voters are increasingly restless and searching for alternatives.

Third, increased diversity and concomitant demands for representation: PR systems tend to be much more gender balanced and ethnically diverse than FPTP--or "fractured" as Bill likes to put it.

Fourth, as the post-materialist theorists like to put it, voters are more educated and "cognitively mobilized"--and more desirous of greater choice, and of choices beyond old left-right industrial age ideologies.

Fifth , there is an expanded rights consciousness, which in Canada is associated with the Charter of Rights--and which has led to an interesting Charter challenge on the grounds that our votes don't count sufficiently equally and our section 3 and section 15 rights have been unreasonably infringed by FPTP.

Sixth, there is, associated with the decline of deference and the other trends noted above, an increased interest in political participation outside of political parties and their hierarchies. While I share your scepticism that BC-STV will elect a bunch of independent MLAs, it would arguably provide a better electoral outlet for that preference than FPTP.

This is why the electoral reform wont go away: it speaks directly to many of the most profound changes taking place right under our feet.

Steve Withers said...

Regarding the poll on MMP in New Zealand, it was commissioned by Graeme Hunt, who is a long-time opponent of MMP. The report he composed about his poll (the only report from any source) does not say what question elicited the 68% response in favour of a referendum. If we don't know the question, how can we have any confidence in the finding? The other two reported questions were more clear. A clear majority of those who had decided support MMP. The number of people who think MMP has been good for New Zealand is double that of people who say it has been bad for New Zealand. The latest poll I know of - March, 2008, shows that MMP now has 59% support in New Zealand with 37% opposed. This is despite the government being quite unpopular at the moment. Until recently, the public view of MMP tended to mirror their satisfaction or lack of it with the government of the day.