Fair Vote Canada BC’s Tip Guide to the BC Government’s Online Electoral Reform Survey
On November 23, the NDP government launched an online consultation survey about BC’s upcoming referendum on proportional representation. The referendum is expected to occur in November, 2018.
Our current electoral system, “first-past-the-post” is now used by only three out of thirty-four OECD countries. It routinely produces single party “majority” governments with the support of only 40% of voters, and it means that about half of BC voters cast ballots which don’t elect anyone.
Proportional representation is a principle that says that if a party receives 30% of the vote, they should get 30% of the seats. With a made-for-BC proportional system, about 95% of voters would cast a ballot which helps elect a representative who shares their values, and cooperation between parties would become the norm.
The results of the BC government’s survey will guide them to design the question(s) for the Nov. 2018 referendum. The survey is open until February 28.
FVC has prepared some tips to help you answer the questions in the BC government survey.
Our extensive research on the issue – based on eight previous electoral reform referendums in Canada, New Zealand and the UK – has provided a tremendous amount of insight and opinion on the way forward. We plan to advocate for the scenario that will put citizens at the heart of the voting system.
This guide will provide tips on some specific key questions – 5, 7c, 8, 9, 18b, 18c, 19, 20, 21, and 24 – related to the referendum question format, values and PR systems.
We hope you find helpful. Please let us know if you would like more information or if you would like to help with our efforts to win the referendum to Make All Votes Count because Democracy Should Include Everyone!
Question 5: “Please select up to 5 values from the list below that are most important to you.”
There are several values-based questions in this survey. These give you an opportunity to express your support for key values in a new electoral system, such as:
– proportional results
– cooperation and compromise between parties
– diversity of representation, and
– increased voter choice
One of the choices is “a voting system that is easy to understand.” We caution you about choosing this as one of your top five. All the proportional systems can be easy to understand, particularly when they become familiar tools for electing representatives. Over 90 Countries around the world use various proportional systems with ease.
Prioritizing simplicity over other values does not get us closer to the democratic values we are trying to achieve with proportional representation.
Question 7 c:
“It should always be clear which party is accountable for decisions made by the government, EVEN IF this means that decisions are made by only one party.
Unfortunately, this survey has lifted some of the problematic “even if” questions from the federal government’s “Mydemocracy.ca”.
This question is based on the faulty assumption that if more than one party forms the government, it is less clear who is accountable for decisions. This is just false.
Coalition or cooperative governments mean compromise and shared accountability.
Most coalition or confidence-and-supply agreements are detailed, written agreements by parties outlining a shared policy agenda. In this way, what the government plans to do, what compromises were made, and which items from each party’s platform were adopted is transparent. Voters in countries with proportional representation are better able to hold parties and politicians accountable because almost every vote counts.
Question 8: “Which would you prefer?” (asking about type of ballot)
Fair Vote Canada BC (FVC-BC) and its allies have done extensive research based on 8 electoral reform referendums in New Zealand, Canada and the UK.
Based on the evidence, FVC-BC will strongly recommend the government consider :
a) A referendum ballot with a mandate question that ensures the principle of proportionality is included in the referendum question itself.
For example, asking BC voters if they agree with adopting a proportional system where the percentage of the popular vote is reflected in the composition of the legislature, with additional criteria and principles for a made-for-BC PR system. Further consultation about proportional options by Elections BC and/or a citizen jury would occur after the referendum.
b) A two part question that also ensures the principle of proportionality is included in the referendum question itself, but gives voters a choice of proportional systems:
- Asking BC voters in Question #1 if they would like to adopt a proportional system where the percentage of the popular vote is reflected in the composition of the Legislature
- Giving voters the option to rank their preferred made-for-BC proportional systems in Question # 2.
The “enabling” legislation the BC government introduced in September made it clear that they’re considering different formats for the referendum question – but they need to hear it from you.
The questionnaire does not explicitly raise the option of a two-part question, so if you want to propose it, you will have to do so in the open-ended questions (questions 9 and 24).
Opponents have been clear that they specifically don’t want a question of mandate, and they don’t want you to have more than one choice on the ballot – because they are “hell bent” on defeating this referendum.
Here’s why FVC-BC supports a mandate question or a two-part referendum question:
- – Decades of polling show that a majority of BC voters support proportional representation – where 30% of the vote gets about 30% of the seats – but many voters don’t have time to research the mechanics of systems.
- – A general question endorsing change offers all BC voters the opportunity to say YES to an important principle – proportionality or keep first-past-the-post.
- – A mandate question or a two-part question allows PR campaigners to unite behind the values and benefits shared by all made-for-BC proportional representation systems, rather than being drawn into explanations and debates about the mechanics of only one option.
- – Being able to say YES to a set of values/criteria (mandate question) or also rank preferred options (two part question) gives BC voters the ability to help select the best proportional system for BC. Either of these options provides meaningful feedback to the government to help to shape a consensus about what features voters want most.
Question 9: “Are there any other comments you would like to make about voting systems or the upcoming referendum?” (open ended question box)
Question 18b: “A ballot should give voters lots of choices, EVEN IF it’s less clear how votes are turned into seats.”
This question is based on a faulty assumption that more choices for voters = an outcome that voters can’t understand. This is just not correct.
For example, filling regional seats with an open list rather than a closed list – giving YOU, the voter, the say over who gets elected – is “more choice” but it doesn’t make the results any harder to understand.
All PR systems can be designed to put voters in the driver’s seat AND make results reasonably easy to understand and completely transparent. Practical experience around the world confirms this.
Question 18c: “An election ballot should be easy to understand, EVEN IF if it means voters have fewer options to express their preferences.”
This question is based on a faulty assumption that more choices = an incomprehensible ballot.
BC voters are no less intelligent, sophisticated or able to grasp a ballot than voters in 80% of OECD countries with PR. All PR ballots for BC can be designed to be user-friendly AND offer choice.
Question 19: “Please indicate which you prefer” (one MLA per riding, a choice of MLAs in each riding, or some MLAs representing ridings and some representing regions)
This question is forcing respondents to choose just ONE PR system design (the second or third option on the list). This is problematic because:
– Most PR supporters would be happy with either system.
– Voters might also like hybrid or customized systems that include features of BOTH systems – it is not an either/or.
Regardless of your favourite PR system (if you have one), it is in everyone’s interest to have multiple choices on the ballot, and to avoid forcing a hard choice among two different systems at this stage. But this question does not allow you to mark multiple preferences. You must choose ONE or indicate “prefer not to answer.”
Question 20: “If the government offers voters a choice of more than one proportional representation voting system, which do you prefer?” (asking about referendum question)
Question 21: “Alongside the option of keeping the First Past the Post voting system, which system or systems of Proportional Representation would you like to see on the ballot?”
This is an important question about different voting system models for BC.
The options listed here include List PR, Mixed Member Proportional, Single Transferable Vote (recommended by the BC Citizens Assembly) and Mixed Member Majoritarian.
There are three substantial problems with this list:
1) These choices leave out some very good options for BC that Fair Vote Canada BC would have liked to see.
In addition to STV and MMP (listed in the survey) FVC-BC, in collaboration with our allies in Fair Voting BC, have put forward two other excellent, made-for-BC proportional options. These hybrid or customized options are built on the high quality work of past assemblies and commissions, and are tailored for BC’s particular geography and democratic traditions. One of these options was recommended by the federal NDP and Green parties in their supplementary report to the federal Electoral Reform Committee.
Unfortunately, these customized models were not included in the government’s list of possibilities. (Read more about them in our User Guide to PR Options in BC here).
2) Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM) is not comparable to the other options identified. It is much less proportional than MMP, STV or List PR and in our view has no place on the ballot in a referendum about proportional representation.
3) Mixed Member Proportional with closed provincial lists should be off the table! All the descriptions of MMP include the option of MLAs elected in province-wide, closed party lists. In PEI in 2005 and Ontario in 2007, referendums were held on MMP with closed, province-wide lists. It did very poorly, and part of the reason was that List MPs could be elected from any part of the province. Regions were not guaranteed the elected representatives on the list would be from their region, and voters were faced with voting for a party list, rather than individuals. All the models recommended by Fair Vote Canada BC and Fair Voting – mixed member, multi-member and blended models – deliver proportionality while preserving strong regional representation.
Question 24: “Are there any other comments that you’d like to make about voting systems or the upcoming referendum?” (open ended question box)
Please consider using this open ended box of 1000 characters to communicate our key recommendations.
In a few weeks Fair Vote Canada BC will be making its formal organizational submission to the BC government. Our recommendations will appear on the on this site and in your inbox (if you are on our mailing list).
In this submission, we will include more detailed recommendations about the question format, the PR options that we would like to see on the ballot, and the challenges raised by proponent/opponent funding.
We encourage all of our supporters to respond to the survey between now and the Feb. 28 deadline. You can do so right away if you prefer, or watch your Inbox for Fair Vote Canada BC’s submission to the BC government as a further source of inspiration!
On behalf of the Fair Voting BC team of local leaders, thank you for supporting our work and participating in the government’s consultation on the BC referendum.
If you would like to help us win the referendum and work towards a voting system that Makes Every Vote Count, please consider donating to this campaign!