BC-STV, take 2

British Columbia is now just over a week away from its (second) referendum on the proposal to change to single transferable vote for future provincial legislative assembly elections. The referendum will be concurrent with the election to the next provincial assembly, by FPTP, at which the Liberals will be seeking a third term. The voting takes place on 12 May.

The election race could be tightening, with a recent poll putting the Liberals on only 42%, the NDP at 39%, and the Greens 13%.

If the race is (at least) that tight between the top two parties, and the Greens are that strong, just about any outcome is possible, given the past history of this province’s FPTP but multiparty elections–the history that initially put electoral reform on the map over the past decade. In fact, the item just linked includes a section about how the poll is an “echo [of the] B.C. Liberals’ 1996 defeat.” In that year the NDP won its most recent assembly majority despite the Liberals’ having won their first-ever voting plurality.

The referendum requires 60% to pass, plus majorities in 60% of the provincial ridings (electoral districts). Sixty percent of votes is probably at least 20 percentage points more than it would take either party to win 60% of ridings, depending on margins and geographical distribution of the vote.

There are YES and NO sites regarding the referendum that are worth a look.

I have addressed many of these issues in past B.C. plantings.

14 thoughts on “BC-STV, take 2

  1. The Question is What are the polls on STV passing the 60% mark and 60% of the Single Member Districts. Did I just get the threshold wrong? Is there a good chance that it passes by a majority like last time and not go into effect?

    What if we see a reverse plurality election where the NDP wins on 39% of the vote and the Liberals loose on 41%?

    Also the BC Liberals will shoot themselves in the foot for not letting STV just go into effect because a majority of the vote for Yes for it by 58% if they loose to the NDP by a reverse plurality.

    What was the New Zealand referendum on MMP like? The Campaign, anyone remember? Did the major parties tell people to vote no, or were they indifferent? I have a feeling if the major parties in BC told people to vote No, the more the people would vote Yes. There are indifferent, so people are indifferent or just don’t know.

    Does this happen in referendums when politicians tell people No, and the people say Yes to spite them and vice versa?

    I hope it passes. Canada needs electoral reform really badly. There is no rational for FPTP at the Federal Level if no party wins a clear majority anymore.

  2. What was the New Zealand referendum on MMP like? The Campaign, anyone remember? Did the major parties tell people to vote no, or were they indifferent?
    The big parties didn’t take a position IIRC, but various politicians did. I can’t remember any specific speculation that a change would favour one existing party over the other. The wikipedia article on Electoral reform in New Zealand is a decent start.

  3. If I recall correctly, the NZ Electoral Commission website has a good page on the campaign.

    Broadly, I would say that Errol’s recollection seems about right.

  4. I don’t remember too well as I was not much along in years at the time but I do recall that while the Nats took no major general stance on the issue, a LOT of traditional National supporters were positively frothing at the mouth in opposition to it (some still are)

  5. Bad news, I’m afraid: the latest Angus Reid poll, out Friday, May 8, has the referendum trailing 45% in favor, 55% opposed. If accurate, this reflects a significant decline in support since mid-April. And it’s in spite of what appears to be a very effective campaign by the Yes side — and in spite of poll numbers showing the FPTP horse race going down to the wire. Will B.C. voters wake up Wednesday morning with another majority government elected by a minority of the voters, but with electoral reform off the agenda again for a generation? What a hangover!

  6. I would guess that the tightening in the polls largely explains the decline in support for STV. As the polls tighten, the number of frustrated NDP voters declines, because the NDP might get to enjoy full governmental power again. This was never going to pass with just the votes of Greens and the Marijuana Party, after all.

    I’ve always maintained that the case for reform away from FPTP has to rest on anomalies, defined as outcomes that FPTP “should not” produce. Of course, a governing majority for the plurality party is what the system is supposed to produce. And the 2005 election was a very ordinary FPTP/Westminster outcome. Unless another plurality reversal (like 1996) or lopsided majority (like 2001) looks quite likely by election day, the memory of anomalies may simply be too distant.

    The alternative scenario would be a “culture change”; that is, manufactured majorities to be seen as illegitimate. Of course, again, without the anomalies, such a culture change probably always faces a high hurdle.

    When up to 80% of the voters has reason to think that their party will enjoy the benefits of majoritarian governance now or soon, a vote of even 45% in favor of a PR system might be seen as quite high!

    Too bad the government set the high approval threshold in the first place, because 57% (in 2005, when the memories of anomalies were still fresh) might normally be considered a pretty solid mandate for change!

  7. Was it really mostly frustrated NDP supporters who voted “Yes” in 2005? I’ve yet to see any figures breaking down votes for/against STV by party; if you have a source, please share!

  8. Christy Clark, former NDP Deputy Premier, now a talk radio host (leftwing radio exists in North America?!) has changed her mind since 2005 and now supports STV.

    It is not uncommon for retired politicians to regret not supporting PR and/or STV when they were in office. Asquith, of course, famously kicked himself after the UK Liberals were reduced to third-party status. In Australia, a couple of former Hawke Labor Ministers have come out in favour (Barry Cohen for a parallel AV-STV system, Chris Hurford for STV within new Regions)… again, after they returned to private life.

    Let me guess… the BC Libs and NDP are arguing that STV is bad because, oh, I don’t know, it might enable the “loser” from the last general election to form a ramshackle alliance – a “coalition”, if you will – with some minuscule minor party to defeat the real winner, ie, whoever got a plurality of seats elected by plurality of votes? Just wondering.

    The Canadian Liberals are already a laughing-stock through the rest of the English-speaking world for their unprincipled sleaze, but I’d have expected more consistency from the NDP.

  9. Tom,

    The parties haven’t really taken positions on BC-STV, though a few individual politicians have. One may presume Premier Campbell supports it at least somewhat, since he started the reform process despite the lack of any real political pressure forcing it upon him. (Also, since he brought it up for a second vote after it “lost” the first vote.)

    I do wish the political parties made more of an effort, but it’s a bit of a catch-22: Any politician popular enough to help PR probably has a lot to gain from FPTP.

    This is a bit of a tangent, but you should know that many of the Liberal parties of Canada are not affiliated with each other. It can get pretty confusing sometimes: There’s the Liberal Party of Canada (Quebec), a wing of the federal part; and the Liberal Party of Quebec, the provincial party; and they disagree of a number of issues, such as the alleged “fiscal imbalance”.

    In particular, the Liberal parties of Quebec and British Columbia are quite different from the federal party. Each province once had a conservative party which completely collapsed–in each case the Liberals have adjusted to the changed environment by moving towards the centre or centre-right. So Jean Charest could easily move from the federal Tories to the Quebec Liberals.

    For the sake of completeness, the conservative parties in Canada are also not closely affiliated, they don’t even have the same names! The NDP and Greens, by contrast, are centralized.

  10. As far as I can tell, the polling on the referendum in 2005 did not ask about party identification. Or at least the summary I have in presentation form (from a conference) does not include such a breakdown.

    I was not, by the way, suggesting that the 57% in 2005 was mainly “frustrated NDP voters.” In fact, I would guess at that time NDP voters were likely still expecting FPTP to be to the benefit of their party.

    I was merely speculating that if this election looked like another sure defeat for their party, there might be votes there for the referendum. But that a closer election would imply a lesser openness to STV.

    As long as I am speculating wildly, I am going to guess that a lot of the pro-STV vote in 2005 was not from frustrated ‘Dippers’ but from relatively new Liberal voters who had been attracted to the party’s reform agenda in 2001 (when the party won about the same vote percentage as the referendum would win four years later) but perhaps alarmed by their party having won nearly all the seats in that election. As time has worn on, that ‘newness’ factor just isn’t there anymore, and we are back to ‘normal’ FPTP politics since the 2005 election.

  11. Noted. Guilty, your hono[u]r, of superimposing Australian-level discipline and cohesion on the Canadian parties. [*] Although I do find it odd that genuinely private citizens – who don’t hold, or hope to hold, a single-member district seat – would spontaneously organise a “grass-roots” anti-STV movement. I suppose, as Voltaire noted, the Vendeen peasants died to defend their right to be serfs.

    I remember seeing a table of Canadian premiers a few years ago and noting that no two seemed to be of the same (formal) party…

    [*] By analogy, in the 1999 Republic referendum, the parties largely stayed out and the fight was between the Australian Republican Movement on one side, and a loose alliance of monarchists and radical (direct-election) republicans on the other side (and yes, that led to a Condorcetian turkey-shoot – 54% voted No). The ALP was (almost) all in favour, while the Liberal PM , John Howard, made it clear he was against (although a sizeable number of Liberals – including the present federal leader – campaigned for a Yes vote).

  12. Pingback: What could we expect from electoral reform in BC? | Fruits and Votes

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