BC Politics

Please Advise! Why Is the Electoral Reform Vote Making My Head Hurt?

Fear not, Dr. Steve will explain the choices, and offer an alternative.

By Steve Burgess 1 Jun 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.

Dear Dr. Steve,

The B.C. government has unveiled its plans for the fall referendum on electoral reform. I have read a little about it but I’m confused. Can you help?



Dear Be,

No problem. First, do you own a slide rule? Don’t worry, one will be provided for you. Try to get some practice in before referendum day.

How will the ballot question work? First, there will be a question asking whether you are satisfied with our current system or want to change to proportional representation. A second question will ask you to rank three proportional representation options.

Right off the bat you are probably thinking, “Well, if I vote to keep the current system then I don’t have to deal with the rest of it.” And, Dr. Steve is informed by experts, you can indeed play it that way. You may vote to keep the current system just to avoid dealing with it all, like a weary soldier who shoots himself in the foot to avoid further combat.

But why not play along? Let’s examine the options here. Like when the kids say, “Of course we have no intention of selling your house to condo developers and putting you in a nursing home. Never! But just have a look at these lovely brochures. Doesn’t this one look nice? Look, there’s shuffleboard.”

So what are the options on the referendum ballot? They are: Dual Member Proportional (DMP), Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), Rural-Urban PR, Texas Hold ’Em Tournament (THT), and Final Jeopardy Question (FJQ).

Let’s just examine the first three.

DMP: Under the dual-member system, a seat would go to the candidate who got the most votes, as under the current system. Then a second seat would be allocated based on province-wide voting results. How would this work in practice? Let’s say your riding elects an NDP candidate. Fine — you get an NDP MLA. Then your riding also gets a second MLA who is chosen based on the proportional vote. So if we use the results from the last election, this second MLA would be 40 per cent Liberal, 40 per cent NDP, 17 per cent Green. This doesn’t seem possible but it can work, like so: This second MLA votes with the NDP on Monday and Wednesday, the Liberals Tuesday and Thursday, and the Greens on most (but not all) Fridays. (Take away the party labels and this sort of pattern is not as unusual as you might think.)

MMP: The Mixed Member Proportional system is also known as BSS (Bait-and-Switch System). One MLA is elected for each riding in the usual way. Then a second MLA is also assigned to your riding, taken from lists provided by each party. The identity and particular qualities of this second MLA were hidden deep inside the Terms of Service agreement you clicked on before voting. If you don’t like the second MLA it’s your own fault for being so slack. This system helps to create a more engaged and angry electorate.

Rural-Urban PR: This one is the most interesting of all. The Rural-Urban Proportional Representation system would employ different voting systems for urban and rural ridings. In cities, the vote would be decided on the basis of Starbucks beverage sales, with each candidate represented by the drink that best aligns with their policies. Simple and effective.

Rural votes would be more complex. In some cases a local farmer will discover a web out in the barn with the words “Some Candidate!” woven into it. The candidate in question would be declared the winner. In other rural ridings the first local citizen who climbs onto a haystack at the square dance and says, “Dad burn it, I am sick and tired of the shenanigans down in Victoria” will be sent there to fix things up pronto. In still other cases a talented dog will begin barking outside the general store until someone says, “What’s that, girl? You say democracy is stuck in the well and only Jane Miller, no not that Jane Miller but the other one who lives over beside the Clancy place, can fix it? C’mon everybody, let’s go vote for Jane!”

All three systems will be a break from tradition. Which one is best? Dr. Steve has long preferred his politics with a healthy dose of entertainment and terror, and thus he supports a system based on previous TV stardom and name recognition. Sometimes called the FCS (Famous Clown System), it has the benefit of familiarity due to its prominence in international politics.

Anyway, Dr. Steve believes that whichever choice B.C. voters make in the coming referendum, our fate will ultimately depend on whichever candidate gets the benefit of Russia’s secret Facebook campaign. Choose well, Vladimir.

Note: Story was edited June 3, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. to correct information on the proposed referendum voting process.  [Tyee]

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