The Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act, passed in the fall of 2017, requires that a referendum respecting proportional representation voting system be conducted by mail in ballot no later than November 30, 2018.
This means for the third time in the past fifteen years, British Columbia is going to vote on whether to ditch the First Past the Post voting system in favor of some form of proportional representation. The Act does not state what question will be asked in the referendum nor does it prescribe a form for the question. That will be decided in the coming months.
Take Action: You have the opportunity to shape that discussion by filling out the BC Government’s questionnaire before February 28th. They want to know what British Columbians think about the various systems they are putting forward and how the referendum should be conducted. Learn more by reading this article and researching the systems. Once you decide what is important to you in this discussion, take the questionnaire.
What systems are being considered?
The BC Government created a website that describes the voting systems they are considering. We recommend you look into each of these systems. As you are deciding which system you support, you should keep the following questions in mind.
- Are ridings important to you? Should an MLA represent their constituents or their party?
- Should voters be asked for their top choice or should they rank their choices?
- Should voters be able to vote for a party that they support rather than a representative?
- Is proportional representation important? Should the number of seats match the number of votes cast for a party?
The following are simplified explanations of the systems being considered. Note that many of these systems have variations.
- First Past the Post: Our current system. Each riding has one representative. Voters vote for one candidate. The candidate with the most votes wins the seat.
- List Proportional Representation: Voters vote for a party. There are no representatives of ridings. Parties win seats proportional to the number of votes they receive.
- Mixed Member Proportional: Votes are counted twice: once for a candidate to represent their riding and once for a party. After selecting representatives for each riding, additional seats are allocated to the parties in order to make up the discrepancy between the number of seats and the popular vote.
- Mixed Member Majoritarian: Same as Mixed Member Proportional except additional seats are allocated separately rather than to correct the discrepancy with the popular vote.
- Single Transferable Vote: Voters rank candidates on their ballot in ridings with multiple representatives. Representatives are chosen proportionally to votes from their riding. Whether or not the party has a proportionate number of seats to the popular vote is not considered. This system was used in some parts of Canada in the 1920s-50s.
The BC Government is asking for your input
You have an opportunity to share your thoughts with the BC Government by filling out this questionnaire. If you aren’t sure how to do this, keep reading!
It will start with asking you some general questions about how familiar you are with politics.
Question 5 will ask you what you value most among a range of options. The following are a couple of the options and what they are getting at.
“A Legislative Assembly in which the share of seats each party holds closely matches the share of the votes it receives across the province”
This option has a strong emphasis on the party. Most of the systems proposed by this government place a stronger emphasis on voting for parties. For List Proportional Representation you only vote for the party and for Mixed Member Proportional and Majoritarian split between representatives of ridings and parties.
The question is, would you rather have a system dedicated to ensure parties have seats proportional to the vote they get or would you rather have a system when the MLA is chosen based on the riding’s preferences irrespective of party affiliation.
“Single-party majority governments where it is clear who is accountable for decisions”
“A Legislative Assembly where two or more parties co-operate to make decisions”
These options are here because proportional representation often lead to 3rd parties obtaining more seats and there is a greater likelihood of minority governments. For the same reason a number of the options discuss third parties or independent candidates.
Some are concerned that minority governments mean unstable governments. This is a debatable claim. Countries which use proportional representation do tend to have more minorities, but alliances tend to form between parties to keep government working.
Question 7 will ask you whether there should be greater diversity of views represented. Again, this is in reference to voting systems that allow a greater possibility that third parties will win seats. The other two options assume that it is the party you are concerned with rather than your riding’s representative. They are both asking whether it is better to have a clear majority in charge rather than minority governments.
Question 8 asks for your input on the actual referendum question. Your options are 1) a binary question, 2) multiple systems to choose from, or 3) whether the voting system should be established by the government.
Question 9 gives you the opportunity to share any other thoughts you might have.
This will be followed up with some demographic questions. You can choose to end the survey or go on to Part 2 which ask further questions about your opinions on the voting systems and the referendum.
We recommend taking the time to understand the issues and engage with the questionnaire. Choosing a voting system will drastically change the way our government works and it’s important that we have a voice in the process.