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New electoral system peddled locally

Provincial residents decide on proposed changes May 12

The B.C. general election is scheduled for May 12, but for many across the province, a vote held in tandem will carry much more weight.

That's when B.C.'s residents get to decide, in referendum, whether they want to proceed with the current electoral system - known as first past the post - or switch to practically uncharted waters with BC-STV, or British Columbia Single Transferable Vote.

"This is likely to be the most important political event in our lives," said Chris Joseph, who spearheads the local BC-STV campaign. "If we don't take this opportunity now we may never get it again."

Locals will see all sorts of events on the issue in the run up to the election.

According to Joseph, campaigners will be passing out pamphlets and discussing the referendum at local events,putting up lawn signs, putting on information sessions for local groups with the Streamkeepers first on April 9, SECS next on April 15, District of Squamish Seniors group on April 21, and Earth Day celebrations on Nexen Beach April 19.

BC-STV came out of findings from the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, created in 2004, consisting of 160 voters who committed a year to study and deliberate, listen to 383 presentations at 50 public hearings, and consult 1,600 on-line submissions.

The system they came up with is a variation on the STV used in Australia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Simply put, it allows voters to pick their favourite candidates in succession. If a voter's first candidate doesn't have enough votes and is eliminated, the vote goes to the next candidate.

It also redraws the provincial boundaries to group former ridings together into 20 multi-member districts across the province. So, for example, four MLAs will represent the Kootenays instead of one MLA limited to Nelson-Creston, another for Cranbrook, etc.

The STV way, say proponents, voters can choose honestly rather than strategically since the vote wouldn't be "thrown away" on a candidate with little chance of winning, it would simply be passed on to their second choice.

"As winner no longer 'takes all,'" states a promotional pamphlet, "nearly every voter will get an MLA they helped elect."

BC-STV proponents lost their bid for change in a 2005 referendum. Although 57.69 per cent of voters were in favour, the government had decided to not be bound by a vote of less than 60 per cent. However, because of the strong majority support for BC-STV, the government promised to re-run the referendum in 2009.

"Surveys have shown that nearly everyone who voted 'no' or didn't vote on the referendum in 2005 was in fact supportive once they learned more about STV," said Joseph. "Our challenge is thus to reach out to those who need more information."

But there do exist camps of people vociferously against the idea, such as the creators of

"STV has been in use in Ireland for over 80 years," states the website. "Despite its use, one party, Fianna Fáil, has formed the government in all but 19 years since 1932. From 1932 to 1989 it formed a majority government after all but five elections. Since 1989 it has been the major party in seven coalition governments, failing to form government only from 1994-97.

"Flaws in our political system will not disappear by using a hard to understand system for electing our MLAs and adopting STV will not get B.C. closer to the kind of proportional representation enjoyed in Germany and New Zealand."

For more information on the BC-STV, go to

The Chief will be hosting a forum on the subject April 29. And pick up next week's issue to participate in a mock vote highlighting the difference between the first past the post ad BC-STV systems.

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