The Single Transferable Vote is not electoral reform – or anything good for B.C.

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Dave Meslin’s April 15 rabble article, 'The Left must take on electoral reform,' gave a misleading view of the May 12 provincial referendum on electoral systems in British Columbia. And his idea that the Single Transferable Vote, invented in the mid-19th century by a mathematician and lawyer, is electoral “reform” clearly misses the point.

BC-STV would replace B.C.’s 85 single member constituencies with 20 large electoral areas with up to 350,000 people which would each elect two to seven MLAs, using a preferential vote counting system that breaks each single vote into fractions.

STV allows voters to indicate their preferences but it does not allow voters to determine what fraction of their vote is to be allocated to each preference, meaning you will never know exactly where your vote went.

Once one moves beyond understanding the mechanics of STV, the debate on its merits separates into one camp that asserts wishful thinking and another which tries to find examples in the real world on how STV has actually worked out. 

Meslin writes that: “Misleading data from other countries is being used to fabricate arguments, such as the notion that STV will result in fewer women being elected.  Experts and feminist leaders firmly reject the accusation, and it’s embarrassing to see some progressive leaders align themselves with this type of political activity.”

It appears that Meslin thinks references to the countries of Ireland and Malta -- the only two countries in the world who use STV as their national electoral system -- is somehow spreading“fear mongering and false rumours”. 

But the reality is that Ireland and Malta have terrible records for electing women to their parliaments -- and they have used STV since the 1920s.

As No STV executive member Andrea Reimer recently said: “In Ireland’s 2007 STV election just 13.3 per cent of those elected to the Dail, their parliament, were women – and that was an all-time high. And in Malta under STV just 9.2 per cent of elected were women in 2003 – these are very poor results.”

Reimer is currently a Vision Vancouver city councilor and formerly a Green Party Vancouver School Board trustee.

And Ann Edwards, an NDP cabinet minister from 1991 to 1996 and author of the book Seeking Balance: Conversations with BC Women in Politics, says it is frustrating hearing STV proponents wrongly claiming that STV will elect more women.

“We have to do a much better job of electing women but the facts are the facts -- under STV the number of women elected has been simply appalling,” Edwards said.  “Under our current first past the post system in BC we have elected between 22 per cent and 27 per cent women MLAs since 1991 -- not good enough but STV would be a giant step backwards.”

But I guess Meslin figures he knows more than two experienced British Columbian women politicians whose credentials are impeccable.

Meslin did pose an important question when he asked: “How do we attract younger voters who are turned off by divisive party politics and attracted to collaboration?” 

The answer is not by crushing their expectations by adopting STV, a system that proves to be worse than what we currently use. 

Voter participation has been declining under all electoral systems and political scientists differ on whether any particular system increases voter turnout.  There is a concern that behind the scenes deal making to produce coalitions depresses voter participation.

British Columbians will be interested in the credit at the end of Meslin’s article which noted: “Hours after writing this piece, Dave got on a plane to British Columbia to join the campaign for BC-STV.” 

Meslin finds himself joined by other Ontarians who, having failed in Ontario in 2007, are pushing for any change they can get in British Columbia. 

Fair Vote BC’s April 18 annual meeting featured Ontario compatriots Judy Rebick, Jim Harris and Rick Anderson. Would the Ontario supporters of STV also campaign to eliminate Toronto’s 44 wards and replace them with one big STV at-large system where no part of Toronto was guaranteed local representation?  Don’t count on it!

Toronto has more wards than Ireland has electoral areas or counties.  Eliminating BC’s 85 single member constituencies and replacing them with 20 electoral areas that have populations of up to 350,000 obviously reduces local representation. 

You’d think that even people in Ontario who enjoy the benefits of a ward system would understand that.


Bill Tieleman is President of No STV, the official opponent group in the May 12 provincial referendum on electoral systems, a communications consultant and a former communications director for the B.C. Federation of Labour and former NDP Premier Glen Clark.

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