Most developed countries use some form of Proportional Representation (PR) voting. The most frequently discussed in Canada are STV (Single Transferable Vote) and MMP (Mixed Member Proportional), but there are other possibilities as well.
Three Natural Voting System Options for BC
There are three voting systems that have been recently recommended in provincial or federal electoral reform processes and so are natural options for BC to consider:
- the Single Transferable Vote (STV) recommended by the 2004 BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform
- the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system recommended by the 2004 Law Commission and the recent federal Electoral Reform Commission
- the Rural-Urban Proportional Representation (RU-PR) model also recommended by the federal ERC
STV is a ‘small region’ system in which several current ridings are grouped together and a set of MPs or MLAs elected who reflect the diversity of voters in the region. It was used at the municipal level in all four western provinces and in several major cities (Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg) at the provincial level until as late as the 1970s. It is presently used at all levels of government in Ireland, for the Northern Irish Parliament, in Scottish local government elections, in several Australian states and the Senate, in some New Zealand cities, in Cambridge and Minneapolis in the USA, and most recently has been authorized for use in Ontario cities and towns.
MMP is a ‘top-up’ system in which about 60% of the MPs or MLAs are elected in single member ridings (the same way we do now), while the remaining 40% are elected as ‘top-up’ representatives to compensate for the disproportionality of the riding elections. MMP was invented for use in Germany, and is also used now in New Zealand and in the Scottish and Welsh devolved assemblies.
RU-PR is a modern-day refinement of the way voting used to happen in Manitoba and Alberta. Like STV, it offers multi-member districts in the more urban areas, the possibility of single member ridings in more rural areas, and a much smaller number of top-up MLAs (as few as 10-15%) to ensure proportionality everywhere.
What Path Forward for BC?
Now that the new government in BC has promised a referendum, how do we decide what voting system we should adopt?
Some have argued that STV has the most legitimacy since it was selected by the non-partisan, representative and reflective Citizens’ Assembly. Although voters endorsed STV (and the process that led to its recommendation) in 2005 by a vote of 58% in favour, the then-government did not accept this result and offered instead a second referendum in which, unfortunately, only 39% of voters were in favour.
The NDP and Green Parties themselves have stated that they prefer MMP, which was the choice of the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly. Though it lost in the 2007 referendum there, voters in PEI recently voted 55% in favour of MMP.
RU-PR was designed by Fair Voting BC and Fair Vote Canada to address some of the unique geographic challenges in Canada. It offers tremendous flexibility to address virtually every concern politicians have expressed about STV or MMP, while retaining the primary strengths of these systems.
Given that there are three primary options with strong claims to being considered for use in BC, how should we proceed?
Fair Voting BC Recommends Leaving Decision to Voters
While the government itself has the power to simply decide that one system or another should be chosen, this would open it to accusations that its choice best served party interests rather than voters’ interests.
Fair Voting BC therefore recommends that we use a process that enables all people with an interest in the voting system to express their perspectives and have that taken into account in a way that does respect the principle that the voting system needs to serve the people above all else.
We suggest two main ideas:
- Use Citizen Juries as the centrepiece of a public consultation process in which input will be solicited from all stakeholders (citizens, academic experts, advocacy groups, politicians and parties) and the goal will be to choose the best versions of each of the three major systems described above (as well as any others the Juries might propose to add)
- Put the resulting options to the voters using a ranked ballot, similar to what was done in Prince Edward Island. Also offer voters who support the principle of reform, but who do not feel well enough informed to decide between the options a way to indicate their support for proportional representation.
We invite you to read the sections below to learn more about the main options that have been proposed for use in Canada. We also recommend an excellent primer prepared by the Library of Parliament.