Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thoughts On STV 3 — Myths And Reality

Myth: We'll end up with huge unmanageable super-ridings, some of which will be bigger than Ireland.
Fact: Rural constituencies in northern BC will be huge, no matter what electoral system you use. You just can't avoid that when you have a vast amount of land with small population. Arguing that some of those ridings will be bigger than a European nation which elects its own assembly is as pointless as complaining that existing BC riding of Stikine (196,437 km2) is larger than New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI put together, yet it only elects one MLA.

In reality however, the proposed NorthEast constituency is just 17% larger than existing riding of Peace River North (175,808 km2) and it's actually smaller than its Federal counterpart - Prince George/Peace River (237,174 km2.) The largest proposed constituency (NorthWest) is just 15% bigger than its Federal counterpart Skeena/Bulkley Valley (323,720km2). Except that those Federal ridings return only 1 member, while NorthWest would return 3 MLAs and NorthEast would return 2.

Myth: We'll have some 40 candidates on the ballot.
Fact: Number of candidates on the ballot depends more on the electoral rules than on the number of elected members returned by the district. Great example is Toronto, where the two recent mayoral elections (in 2003 and 2006) were contested by about 40 candidates each. That's more candidates than Winnipeg used to have in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, when the city was electing as many as 10 MLAs in a single constituency.

Ireland has been using STV since 1920s and the number of candidates in a 5-member constituency rarely exceeds 15. If BC maintains reasonable requirements for the candidates, even a 7-member constituency (Capital region) is unlikely to have more than 20 candidates. To make voting easier, candidates from different parties would be listed in separate columns, so going through all those names won't be any more difficult than going through 8-12 names that we usually have on a ballot in a single-member urban constituency.

Myth: STV will undermine local representation.
Fact: Number of MLAs won't change and all of them will be elected locally. There will be no party lists, no MLAs at large or anything else that would break the direct link between the voters in a constituency and their elected members. If anything, a system in which candidates must compete not just with other parties but also with other candidates from the same party, would compel elected members to listen to their constituents first, rather than blindly obeying the party leader.

Myth: Our tradition of local representation has always been one MP (or MLA) per constituency.
Fact: Up until 1991, some BC constituencies used to return more than one MLA (usually 2, sometimes - 3 or 4). The concept of having more than one elected member isn't foreign to other regions either: New Brunswick used to have 2-4 member ridings until 1974 and PEI was electing its assembly using 2-member constituencies until 1993. On a Federal level, Halifax riding was returning 2 MPs until 1966.

Except that back then, "block voting" was used, so all those MLAs were either in the government or in the opposition. Under STV, each constituency is likely to elect both government and opposition MLAs; that way, every resident in a constituency will have an MLA willing to listen to his concerns.

1 comment:

Frédéric Van Caenegem said...

Thank you Leonard for your very clear and always interesting posts. You and I have very different political values, but I think that we both like STV because, despite our differences, we are willing to talk to each other and respect each others. STV creates cooperative politics, not confrontational politics like our current system does.