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Electoral Reform Consultation Missing Key Options, Says Advocate

Government says criticism of its survey from both sides in the electoral debate is merely part of the process to find the best solutions.

By Andrew MacLeod 1 Dec 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The British Columbia government’s public consultation on changing the electoral system includes systems nobody is advocating for and has left out two of the best options for the province, says the president of the advocacy group Fair Voting BC.

“It’s fair to say Fair Voting BC is a little disappointed in the particular selection of systems they put forward,” said Antony Hodgson, whose group has advocated for more than 20 years to make B.C.’s electoral system better reflect how people vote.

As part of the consultation, the government has provided examples of five voting systems used around the world, including the current first-past-the-post system, list proportional representation, single transferable vote, mixed-member proportional and mixed-member majoritarian.

Systems like list PR and MMP that make representation proportional by adding people from closed lists drawn up by political parties are widely used, but nobody is advocating such a system for B.C. so it’s strange they are being included in the consultation, Hodgson said.

“They didn’t rise to the top in the previous public processes,” he said. “There’s no need to do that and nobody even wants to do that, so why leave it on the table?”

At the same time, the consultation has left out two systems that address many of the concerns that get raised in British Columbia: local proportional representation and rural-urban proportional representation.

“Both of those systems are very much in the spirit of the values articulated by the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform,” Hodgson said, referring to the process that recommended STV. They make voter choice a high priority, but address concerns about local representation, he said.

In the case of local PR, the province’s 87 constituencies would be grouped into regions. Voters would rank candidates from throughout the region, and one MLA would be elected from each constituency. “It’s a very flexible system,” Hodgson said.

Rural-urban PR would have multi-member ridings in urban areas and single-member ridings in rural areas. To make the rural results proportional, the strongest candidate from an underrepresented party in a region would receive a seat.

For example, B.C.’s north might have three seats in Prince George, two in the northwest and two in the Peace region, plus one more that could come from anywhere in the region and would be used to make the results more proportional.

Hodgson said the main difference between the two systems is that while rural-urban PR requires a top-up mechanism, local PR does not.

B.C. could be divided into four regions — Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley and the Interior — or more, depending on what people want, Hodgson said. As long as each region has at least seven seats, the results would be proportional, he said.

Fair Voting BC, which will participate in a formal submission as part of the consultation, is encouraging its 3,500 supporters to add local PR and rural-urban PR under the “Other” category when the question comes up in the online consultation survey.

“Fair Voting BC feels it is very important for voters to use whatever mechanisms are put forward by the government to make their feelings known to the government,” Hodgson said. “It will inform their deliberations, but the result will not necessarily simply be taking the one that has the highest vote from the public.”

Attorney General David Eby, who is overseeing the consultation, said experts on voting systems identified options that are in use in other jurisdictions to provide as examples. “It’s not meant to be an exclusive list of the potential systems that could be put to voters or system that could be put to voters on a ballot question. This is meant to facilitate discussion.”

Asked about the systems Fair Voting BC is promoting, Eby said, “This is exactly the kind of feedback we’re looking for in the consultation process. If there are systems that this individual, or anybody in British Columbia or any organizations think we should be considering to put on the ballot, then they should provide that in the feedback. That’s the whole point of doing the consultation before the ballot’s designed, as opposed to the other way around.”

The engagement process is open until Feb. 28, 2018. “We’re hoping we’ll see some broad themes among feedback from British Columbians in terms of how the ballot question should be worded, what option or options should be put forward to British Columbians, what the rules should be around spending, and we can use those themes to inform recommendations around the ballot question and the process,” Eby said.

BC Liberal MLAs have been critical of the enabling legislation, including that the referendum will require 50 per cent of the vote plus one to pass. The legislation passed Thursday.

In question period Wednesday, BC Liberal MLA and leadership candidate Andrew Wilkinson accused the government of skewing the survey. “The survey is deliberately slanted in favour of proportional representation,” he said.

Eby responded that he’s received criticism from both advocates and opponents of proportional representation. “I think we struck the balance here between the two sides with the survey,” he said. “We have the proportional representation people criticizing the survey. We have the first-past-the-post people criticizing the survey. At the end of the day, it is a fair survey between the two sides.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Premier John Horgan said he’s committed to the referendum, where he wants a question about whether people want to change the system followed by a second one on what they would like to change to.

“I firmly believe that changing our electoral system from the first-past-the-post, to another better way to ensure that every vote matters, is critical to fuller participation in our democratic processes,” he said.

The NDP and the B.C. Green Party have said they will campaign in favour of change and on Wednesday announced they’d formed a working group to develop a joint submission for the consultation.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Elections

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