Referendum Debate – Are You For or Against STV?



April 30, 2009

There is a heated debate in BC right now about how to vote in an upcoming referendum that would change the way we vote. Details about this have already been posted in an article by ARPA Canada here. Now we are turning it over to our readers to submit their thoughts. Please send us your comments and we may include them below. Be sure to let us know if you want your name included, or just your initials. Contact us by clicking here or emailing [email protected]

Perspective #1 (Pro-STV)

BC set to vote on electoral change in a referendum – May 12, 2009

by Harold Ludwig, BC President of the CHP

British Columbians are set to go to the polls on May 12th (a fixed election date). In less than 14 days, citizens of this province will have a rare opportunity not only in deciding on which parties and candidates to support in the general election, but also in deciding on structural change to the electoral system. They will be voting in a referendum to decide whether to get rid of the current First Past the Post system (FPTP) and replace it with something called BC-STV.

For the second election in a row, BC voters have the chance to vote on this. The first time, the proposal which was arrived at by a Citizens’ Assembly (not elected politicians), was approved by 58% of the electorate, 2% shy of the target set by the government. This was considered too close and hence the reason it’s on the ballot once more this time.

How does STV work? Briefly, STV stands for single transferable vote and means that each voter gets one vote to cast for the candidate and party of their choice. You can rank the candidates on the ballot by marking your choices with 1, 2, 3. According to the STV website (, “STV allows voters to ‘spend’ their vote efficiently. If our first choice is least popular and is eliminated, our vote goes to our next choice. If less than our whole vote is needed, then we get ‘change’ to spend on our next choice.” The bottom line is that everyone’s vote counts more than under a ‘winner takes all’ system such as FPTP.

This system would get rid of the ‘politics is war’ mentality that mostly prevails in our political culture and instead require politicians and parties to be more respectful of other opinions and beliefs. It would require the building of bridges rather than moats across which to lobby shots at the opponents. It would create a climate in which the diversity of views within a society such as ours could be more easily represented and would make people less cynical about politics.

Why should this matter to Christians and in particular to those who support a party such as the CHP? If it can be shown that a different electoral system can work in one part of the country, then the chances of it being embraced in other parts (such as Ontario where there has also been discussion on this topic recently) is that much greater. Eventually, it would set the stage for change on the national scene. Members of the CHP have worked for years with organizations such as Fairvote Canada (and Fairvoting BC) to promote changes to our electoral system. For the health of our democratic system and the benefit of all Canadians, lets hope that change will indeed come about on May 12th and that it may signal the beginning of a national debate. As Nick Loenen, a former member of the BC Legislature and co-founder of Fair Voting BC has said, “ … the Christian community in BC has a rare opportunity to help redeem politics.”

While BC-STV has its critics and while it may not be the perfect electoral system (what is?), it is nevertheless a step in the right direction. Keeping in mind the bigger picture, to allow for more proportionality in the casting of votes and supporting of political parties, I urge you to check out this system further and to strongly consider supporting it on May 12th.

If you have further questions, I’d be happy to try to answer them. You can contact me at [email protected].

Perspective # 2: Against STV

By Michael Van

The people who like STV just like it because it is not First Past the Post.  They don’t really understand it, or they would not be voting for it.  They are frustrated that they can’t get their candidates elected in this system, so they are looking for something else.  Their problem is that the opposition parties combine for nearly 60% of the vote, but not quite, and the Libs get a bit more than 40%.  They need 60% to change the current First Past the Post system.  This means that the frustrated opposition parties will get close, but not quite get enough to win the referendum on their own.
Here’s why the Libs probably don’t care either way.  STV will change the size of the ridings into monster ridings with from 2 to 7 representatives.  If you think your civic ballots in Surrey are huge, wait until you see this crazy ballot with all the names!  Unknowns don’t have a chance unless they have a ton of money.  It costs about $50,000 to run an average campaign now, but who knows how much it will cost for a campaign in one of these huge ridings.  Parties with lots of money and candidates who work together will be the only ones who win.  If BC is basically a 2-party system now, it will really become that way with STV.  Voter turnout will decrease, because people will not want to take the time to learn about all the candidates.  Can you imagine an all candidates meeting?  Yikes!  Also, you will lose local representation in many cases.  For example, the representatives from Surrey will probably all be from South Surrey as they almost all are on council.  Many people in northern ridings who currently have some representation will probably never see their MLAs anymore.  Why would they bother?  They only need to focus on the concentrations of voters in their new monster ridings.
All that said, here is why I am against STV.  It is a colossal waste of money.  Elections are expensive enough, and suck enough dollars out of our economy as it is.  STV is spectacularly complicated, and you may have to wait for days to find out who won in your riding while the computer tekkies figure it out.  I say, keep it simple.  It is not perfect, but FPTP works fine for me.
These are probably the reasons only Ireland and Malta (A little sandbar in the Mediterannean Sea that Paul got shipwrecked on) use STV.

Perspective # 3: Against STV

BY JP, Sent in by email in response to e-Luminary

My main concern is that the overall government might be more representative, but it will change very little as people don’t often change their worldviews and therefore when real change is needed by having a new/different government, it can’t be done like the first past the post system.  Now, if the BC residents are not happy with the Liberals, they can vote in the NDP and it will make a big difference.  With STV, the make-up of the government will be 50/50 for ever after and that will make it very difficult to get things done. Also, the ridings become so large the people will even have less of an idea of who there MLA is and that can not be a good thing. 

Have a perspective to share? Send in your thoughts – [email protected]






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