Wednesday, March 18, 2009


So, if you're living in BC, you may (or may not) have heard about something called the Single Transferable Vote, or STV. I would like to talk to you a little about why this lovely system has been floating around lately.

In 2001, we had a provincial election. The BC Liberal Party took (quite literally) all but two of the seats in the BC legislature in that election. Thus, the Citizens' Assembly for Electoral Reform came into being, and consisted of one man and one woman from every provincial riding in our wonderful province. This assembly looked into all kinds of ways to fix the electoral system that had allowed such a colossal majority without the same level of public support, and found the STV. They voted more than 90% in favour of this system as a means of fixing our government.

Four years later, in 2005, there was a referendum in BC. When we had our provincial election, there was an extra question on the ballot. The question was this:

Should British Columbia change to the BC STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform?

The threshold for changing over to the STV system was 60%, higher than the required threshold for the Quebec separatist referendum in 1995. BC voted in favour of STV by a majority of only a little more than 57%. For this reason, we are still using the First-Past-The-Post system.

Now what is STV, you say? It is a system of Proportional Representation in Government. That means that the number of elected officials in government will reflect the amount of popular support they have among the populace. For example, if the green party has 8% of popular support, they will also have close to 8% of the seats.

The number of seats in parliament doesn't change, but the way that candidates run and that ridings are organized will. For example, an area that currently contains 5 ridings might be amalgamated into one large riding. In this riding, the same number of candidates that run under the current system would campaign during the election; that is to say that each party would run five candidates for this one super-riding. Voters would then pick and choose which politicians they would like to have represent them by numbering them off in order of preference. You don't even have to number off every candidate: if you only want to select eight, four or two of the given candidates, that's fine. Choose as many as you like; just make sure you don't give any candidate the same number. You've all done this before, I'm sure, in one form or another; it's the same as being given a list of films and marking them off in order of preference.

When the votes are counted, they are put into groups. Each person's first choice is initially counted, but if the number of votes for that candidate does not reach the threshold to gain a seat (which would be different in every riding depending on the voter turn out), then the person's second choice would be counted instead. This process would continue until each of the seats for the riding are filled and each ballot has been put towards a vote of some kind. In this way, everyone gets some level of representation, rather than being completely cut out of the governing process, as occurs often under the current system.

In this way, each large ridings would have a group of representatives instead of just one. There would therefore be a level of cooperation necessary to represent each riding, and everyone would have some say in the decisions made, rather than having the views of one party governing all.

If this sounds like a good idea to you (and you live in BC and can vote), then VOTE YES TO BC STV!!!

If you need more infos, check out


Wayne Smith said...

The real driver for change was the 1996 election, where the Liberals got the most votes, but lost the election. In fact, the NDP formed a "majority" government, with fewer votes than the Liberals!

This caused a light bulb to go off in Gordon Campbell's head, so he promised that if he ever became Premier of BC, he would establish a Citizens' Assembly to look at a new voting system.

When he won 97% of the seats in 2001 with 58% of the votes, suddenly the voting system looked like it was working just fine, but to his credit, he followed through with his promise.

When the CA recommended proportional representation, the Liberals got cold feet and decided you needed a 60% majority to change the voting system, although the government can do whatever they want with their 46% "majority".

Anna Rankin said...

Citizens of B.C. are used to our current system. It is familiar and simple, but are these the top priorities for a strong democracy?

It's important to know that proportional systems like STV are used in more countries worldwide that plurality systems like our current one.

These countries function very well and the big advantage is that governments represent a much larger section of the population. That is democratic.

Opponents are going to argue that STV is too complicated. The last referendum polling showed that once voters understood STV they were much more inclined to vote for it. As evidenced by the Citizens' Assembly who recommended it by a margin of 146 -7.

I am hopeful that the people of B.C. will take the time to learn about STV or go to the government site:

An opportunity to strengthen democracy does not come often and it will not come again to B.C

Anna Rankin

Wayne Smith said...

Citizens who wish to make an informed choice should also read the final report and recommendations of the BC Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform:

Then you will know what is being proposed, by whom, and why.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting up all the important things I left out, guys! Much appreciated ;)