In the wake of British Columbia’s provincial assembly election, which did not result in a single-party majority, a deal has been stuck that would see the government change. The NDP (41 seats) and the Greens (3) would topple the incumbent Liberals (43).
It is a “confidence and supply” arrangement. That is, the NDP and Greens are not forming a coalition cabinet; rather, the Greens are promising support to the NDP to form and maintain a minority government. The deal is intended to last for four years.
Details remain scant at this point, but regarding Greens’ priorities, the Globe and Mail (second link above) reports that the party
had set out three “deal breakers” that include official party status, campaign finance reform and proportional representation, although other issues, including the party’s opposition to several Liberal resource priorities, also would have factored into such talks.
It’s going to be interesting to see if they can hold on to that 1-seat majority for the entire 4 year term.
The last Canadian government which planned a referendum to introduce proportional representation was Bernard Lord’s Progressive Conservative government in New Brunswick, after the 2004 Report of the Commission on Legislative Democracy. However, it had only a narrow majority. When a Progressive Conservative MLA said he would have to resign his seat as he had accepted a job in the private sector, Lord did not want to govern with a hung legislature, nor risk a by-election loss, but instead called an early general election. He lost in, ironically, a wrong-winner election, when the Liberals got fewer votes but the most seats. Sad, when Bernard Lord had said a 50% majority in the referendum would have been sufficient to implement the MMP model recommended by the Commission.
Moral for the new BC government: get on with your plans for proportional representation. Don’t count on having the full four years.
I did a search for the post where commentators rightly criticized provincial NDP governments for not implementing proportional representation, despite it being part of the national NDP platform.
The search took me to right this post, so the website is ahead of me.
So it looks like we will finally see a provincial NDP government actually implement PR.
CBC has a summary of the NDP-Green pact.
Regarding the point that we care most about at F&V:
Are we to interpret that as holding a PEI-style AV-selection of the PR system directly alongside a vote on whether or not to change?
“b. Proportional Representation
i. Both the BC New Democrat Government and the BC Green Caucus are committed to
proportional representation. Legislation will be introduced in the 1st sitting of the
next session of the BC Legislative Assembly with a BC New Democrat Government
(1) A referendum on proportional representation will take place in the fall of 2018,
concurrent with the next municipal election; and
(2) The form of proportional representation approved in the referendum will be
enacted for the next provincial election.
ii. The parties agree that they will work together in good faith to consult British
Columbians to determine the form of proportional representation that will be put to
iii. The parties agree to both campaign actively in support of the agreed-upon form of
That’s one form, not a PEI-style multiple choice.
By the way, provincial NDP governments have never been bound by the national NDP platform. Each provincial party is fully autonomous, provided only that it follows the principles of the federal party. PR is not, sadly, mentioned in the federal statement of principles.
I read the agreement. I think it’s ambiguous – it does not state how the specific form of PR will be chosen, and so leaves the possibility open that it will be chosen at the 2018 referendum itself.
What form of PR is going to be chosen? STV or MMP? The Greens could have also gotten PR for local government elections as well so that voters can get use to PR. Is BC the test case that is ripe for PR? There will be a simple majority for the referendum, right?
The city of Vancouver wants to use PR for municipal elections. That might be next. Right now they want to get PR passed for BC before one of their MLAs gets run over by a truckload of pipelines, or something. And yes, BC will lead the way for the rest of Canada. Much online celebration in process. I have my suspicions what the results of the model consultation will be, but consultation means we don’t know yet. Meanwhile:
What are the rules governing the Speakership? WIll the (not) coalition be disciplined enough (and conventionally allowed) to force a 43-43 tie and win on the Speaker’s casting vote? Is there any chance of persuading a Liberal to (half) cross the floor to the Speaker’s chair?
I noticed the Greens are demanding to reform the rules on official party status. I hope they intend to abolish it; it’s one of the most damnable rules prevalent in Canadian parliaments. At Westminster, every party, even if it has just one MP, is allowed a representative at every committee, while in Ottawa, members of parties with under 12 seats are effectively 2nd-class MPs, with far fewer rights to participate, including being completely shut out of committees.
This election’s seat distribution is a dream come true for Westminster legislature wonks. It reminds me of of some of the seat calculus in First Among Equals, by Jeffrey Archer.
More than once, we’ve seen minority and bare-majority governments in Canada drag their own party members to the speaker’s chair. Usually, it’s born of a long-in-power gov’t with too much arrogance vs. practicality.
Christie Clark is smarter than most, it seems to me, and falls on the practical side. If I’m the Liberals, I find a way to drag a Green or NDP member to the speakers chair, by hook or by crook. Then the speaker gets to cast the deciding vote in any supply or confidence motion, which must support the government. Since you can’t get regular legislation passed, you stuff your priorities into an omnibus budget bill.
Given the cracks already appearing in the NDP-Green coalition, I give this scenario about a 25% chance of happening. Delicious until an opposition day is scheduled with the deputy speaker in the chair (a Liberal, presumably).
And this is why I love FPTP so much – the pure entertainment it generates! Oh, to be Christie Clark’s version of Alistair Campbell this week would be marvelous. The thick of it, indeed.
“the speaker must support the government.” No, none of the conventions for how Speakers behave are law (“must”), and will obviously not be followed where there is only a one-seat majority. Although there are also other means to deal with the Speaker’s role, but we must wait and see.
It’s true that we are talking of conventions, but convention can be law. There’s nothing ‘obvious’ about the behaviour you describe, since what you’re suggesting does not have precedent. Rather the opposite. Still, I agree that it remains a possibility. It would be rash on the part of the speaker, as it could lead to all sorts of legal wrangling and constitutional questions.
In a way, it’s a game of chicken with regard to respecting norms.
There is a convention that the speaker use the casting vote to support the status quo ante. That is not quite the same as supporting the government. For example the casting vote should not be used to support a gag or guillotine.
And as we all know the conventions are not enforceable in a court and they are in fact so vague that typically both sides will claim to be acting in terms of conventions when they are not. The Harper/Abbot claim that in a Westminster parliament the largest party should always form the government is an example of a convention that was entirely unknown before they made it up.
Some conventions do turn out to be enforceable by the court, as Harper found out at least twice that I can recall.
Having to support the status quo ante is why I suggested the Liberals try to stuff their legislation in omnibus budget form, because the speaker’s vote to support the status quo means defeating ‘regular’ legislation, only supporting matters of confidence, which includes budgets by another convention .
Note: When I say “suggest”, I do so from the pov of a “political creature”, not a democrat. Although I do believe that the government, when it earns a plurality, should at least test the confidence of the legislature, as Clark has chosen, rather than simply throw up their hands. It warms my heart to see the Westminster system practices follow intent, a rare enough sight.
I’m not sure which uses you are referring to, but I’d love to read them.
Alan – I think you were referring to someone else. Or: what uses are you thinking I wrote about?
It’s true that we are talking of conventions, but convention can be law.
There exist many practices which are adhered to in Canada that are not included in the Constitution Act or any other formal constitutional document. These practices are called Conventions of the Constitution and are made up of accepted procedures and well recognized practices that are binding on those to whom they are meant to apply.
One incident I was thinking about regarding Harper was when the Supreme Court rejected his nominee through an unwritten convention regarding the particular Court the appointee had or had not sat on. This may not be the best example, because the Court’s decision relied on some pretty thin reeds.
In response to Ross Trusler: the Supreme Court’s rejection of Harper’s nominee was not due to any unwritten convention. It was due to the explicit wording of the Supreme Court Act.
Indeed, Wilf. If you read Reference re Supreme Court Act, ss. 5 and 6 it is a brief and fairly simple exercise in statutory interpretation with only a single, not very strong, dissent.
Is it true, as former B.C. cabinet member says here:
That the Speaker is, by tradition, not supposed to use her/his tie-breaking vote for “partisan purposes”? Or is this article just Liberal Party propaganda? Thanks in advance!
I see that several people already addressed my question on June 18. Reminder to self: look before you leap,.
Sadly, new Westminster conventions are fabricated on the spur of the moment whenever a general election returns a parliament without a definite majority.
The conventions are also fairly variable. The prime minister of Australia and the premier of New South Wales always resign after a general election. In other states the premier only resigns after losing their majority. Anne Twomey has covered the territory in frightening detail.
This doesn’t align with the other comments in the thread, but its about elections (the campaign finance part) and British Columbia and I couldn’t find a better place to bring it up.
The BC government is making significant changes to where BC political parties can raise funds:
This is probably a consequence of the deal described on this thread.
The BC Attorney General, David Eby, has made public his proposal to the BC cabinet concerning a referendum on proportional representation. It would have two parts: the first offers a choice between FPTP and PR (pick one); the second part has three options for PR (preferential ballot). It will be a mail-in vote.
The PR options are:
1) Dual member proportional. Think “MMP with 50% top-up seats filled by best losers with exactly 1 top-up member from each district” plus a few minor wrinkles. Some large rural districts would remain single member.
2) Mixed member proportional. At least 60% of seats to be single-member. A suggestion, but not definitely stated, that the lists would be open.
3) Rural-Urban PR. MMP Lite for rural regions, STV in urban regions.
If PR is approved, an all-party legislative committee would be tasked with working out technical details (the devil’s playground!).
Unlike the STV referendum of 2005/2009, people in favour of PR can express a preference among PR systems. The offer of fairly specific options may reduce the scope for the No Change side to wage a FUD campaign (“PR means a system like in Israel with no local representation and lists controlled by party bosses.”)
Click to access How-We-Vote-2018-Electoral-Reform-Referendum-Report-and-Recommendations-of-the-Attorney-General.pdf
Atrocious that STV is not an option. The Citizens’ Assembly put a lot of thought into proposing it, and it did receive majority support in 2005.
jd is hereby awarded the Hare-Clark-Spence Prize for launching an STV push while not being Australian!
More seriously, you’d wonder why the Rural-Urban proposal does not simply go for smaller magnitudes in rural seats, with the possibility of single member STV districts in remote areas. You could add a province-wide topup to deal with the occasional reversed majority.
I suspect STV failing by 20 points in 2009 weighed more heavily on the mind of the Attorney General. I also suspect that the NDP would not be overly enthusiastic about a STV proposal that would amount to PR in cities and majoritarianism in (Liberal-voting) rural areas.
It is quite hard to see how a god an STV system with a topup to ensure proportionality can be described as majoritarianism in rural areas..
I assumed “a province-wide topup to deal with the occasional reversed majority” was something like Malta has, with the top-up only kicking in if there was a reversed majority. If it’s more like Sweden or Norway, then it’s basically just two-tier PR. That seems basically fine, but it’s different from most other proposals for smaller districts in rural areas, and creates problems for independent candidates.
A potential problem with two-part votes like the one proposed in B.C., where the first part pits status quo versus reform and the second part offers a choice of reform proposals – while excluding the status quo option – is that a significant number of voters backing the latter in the first part may cast a blank or invalid vote on the second part, precisely to protest its exclusion; this happened in both New Zealand’s 2011 electoral system referendum and Puerto Rico’s 2012 status plebiscite. Although in the case of the New Zealand 2011 vote the outcome of the second part became academic, as voters decisively backed the status quo (namely MMP) in the first part, in Puerto Rico’s case it led to an inconclusive outcome, as voters rejected the status quo (Commonwealth) in the first part, but the large 61% majority of valid votes for statehood shrank to a less-than-decisive 44% plurality when the record number of blank and invalid votes were taken into consideration; had Puerto Rico’s plebiscite ballot been structured as three yes-or-no questions on Commonwealth, statehood and independence, respectively, it is quite likely that the “no” option would have won on all three instances, reflecting the fact that no status option has commanded overall majority support in Puerto Rico for some time now.
With that in mind, the proposed B.C. could deliver a majority for electoral reform in the first part, but if a large enough number of voters backing FPTP in the first part cast blank or invalid votes in the second part, they could end up denying a majority of *all* votes cast to the winning reform option (even with preferential voting), and opponents of reform would seize upon such an outcome to call into question the mandate for reform, even if the letter of the law only took into consideration valid votes cast – which is exactly what happened in Puerto Rico.
Indeed. Candidates for “STV” single-member districts are most likely to be found among 17 remote districts of Northern and Interior regions in BC. Those regions were guaranteed not to lose seats in an Electoral Boundaries Commission act passed by the former Liberal government. The North and Interior ended up with 20% of seats for 15% of registered voters. In 2017 the Liberal candidates received 49% of the votes and won13 of the 17 seats there.
STV has been used with variable magnitudes twice in Australia. The ACT had a mix of magnitude 5 and 7 districts until recently. It was also used from 1918 to 1926 when urban seats had 5 members and rural seats had 3 members. Both systems produced proportional results.
There was the nasty example of the Tullymander in Ireland, but those districts were drawn up by the local government minister, not an independent commission. Most spectacularly, the Tullymander divided Dublin itself into 9 magnitude 3 districts. I’d guess no-one in BC is likely to define Vancouver as an example of a remote or rural area. It is really quite hard to see why anyone would propose FPTP in rural and remote areas with a topup and regard that as good, and definitely not majoritarianism, but oppose preferential voting in rural and remote areas with a topup and regard that as bad and definitely majoritarianism.
Electoral education matters. Introducing the good people of BC to a new voting system with different methods of voting in different parts of the province would be a nightmare and a goldplated invitation to FUD campaigning. It is also rather counterintuitive considering that a large majority of those districts voted in favour of the first STV referendum. The second STV referendum was run under quite restrictive campaign rules more or less guaranteed to produce a negative result.
The Tullymander was not an example of manipulation via variable magnitudes, but manipulation using *low* magnitudes.
The BC-STV proposal already accommodated rural areas with a significant amount of magnitude variation, with the most northern areas having M=2 and the most urban areas of Vancouver and Victoria having M=7. I thought that was very fair. Perhaps improve that plan by increasing assembly size S to 99 while keeping rural ridings at M=2-3, redistribute MP and ministerial salaries accordingly and put a cap on overall MP-related spending so that the cost of the increase is minimised. Such a plan at least deserves a spot on the ballot.
I would vote the dual-member first, MMP second, and the rural-urban PR third. The dual-member thing looks like an MMP system with some unique features. My only complaint would be its high threshold. Also, does the AG report (and Baden-Wuerttemberg, for that matter) address the possible scenario where a party wins more seats than there are single-member districts, thus running out of losers to fill its entitled seats?
DMP calls for a party to run a primary candidate and a secondary candidate in each district that it contests. The idea is that if a party won, say, 70% of the votes in a district, it would be possible for both its candidates to be elected. Whatever the merits of that idea, it does mean that a party can’t run out of candidates to fill seats.
Baden-Wurttemberg did (still does?) have an alternate listed for each candidate on the ballot.
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