BC election writ drops; referendum campaigns underway

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The provincial election was called today in British Columbia. Alongside with the election, the citizens of the province will also be debating if they should change their electoral system from Single Member Plurality to Single Transferable Vote (STV). The vote for both the election and the referendum is to be held on May 12th.

According to the Angus Reid Strategies online poll, the issues before the candidates this year are the economy, crime and public safety, and health care.

Gordon Campbell is the current Premier of British Columbia, and leader of the Liberal Party. Three new tax measures have been proposed, increasing apprenticeship training tax credits, reducing small business income tax, and raising the revenue definition for small business. "Keep B.C. Strong" is the Liberal slogan.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Carole James is focusing her election platform on supporting a green economy, eliminating the carbon tax, offering families tax relief, freezing post-secondary tuition, raising the minimum wage, and providing a small business tax holiday. The NDP slogan is "Take back your B.C."

The Green Party, led by Jane Sterk, is focused on environmental issues, crime and police, and a 'green economy'. The Green Party is in support of the carbon tax and will be campaigning in favour of the new STV voting system that is being proposed again. The Green Party slogan is "A better plan for B.C."

Carole James, Leader of the New Democratic Party
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Wilf Hanni is at the helm of the Conservative Party which opposes the Recognition and Reconciliation Act, privatization of BC Hydro Bill 42 'gag law', and the carbon tax. They propose to reduce senior civil employee pay scale, as well as personal and corporate income tax.

Other parties running candidates are the Democratic Reform under Graeme Roger, the Marijuana Party under Marc Emery, the Work Less Party under Conrad Schmidt, the Refederation Party under Mike Summers, the Sex Party under John Ince, and the Communist Party under George Gidora.

For 60 days before the election, each party may campaign with an allowable CA$1.1 million, in the final 28 days, $4.4 million may be spent. $70,000 is allowed by candidates before the writ is dropped, and another $70,000 in the midst of campaigning.

The referendum will allow BC voters to choose between two voting systems. The Single Member Plurality system is the current system in all Canadian provinces, and is also used to elect Members of Parliament in Ottawa. The other system is BC-STV, which would replace 85 single-member ridings with 20 larger ridings in which between two and seven Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) would be elected. The total number of MLAs will not change. Voters would rank the candidates in order of preference, as many or as few as they wish. When the results are tallied, votes are transferred to the next preference on the ballot when the first preference has been elected or eliminated. The system is designed to ensure that every vote helps to elect someone, every vote counts as fully as possible, and every voter is represented by a candidate they voted for, as nearly as mathematically possible.

Previous elections held under the current Single Member Plurality (also known as First Past The Post) system led to odd results in certain elections, such as the 2001 election where the winning party obtained 77 of the 79 seats of the legislature with just 58% of the vote, and the 1996 election, in which the party with the most votes failed to win the election. The recommendation to switch to STV was made by the British Columbia Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, a group formed in 2004 of randomly selected citizens. They spent a year learning about voting systems around the world and consulting with BC citizens.

It's the fourth referendum in the country and the second in the province within the last 4 years. The previous referendum held in 2005 also voted on these same electoral systems and came within 2.3% of the 60% threshold. In order for the referendum to be binding, BC-STV will again need 60% of the popular vote and 50% of votes in 51 of the 85 ridings in BC. If the change is approved, it will be the first province in the country to adopt reform of the electoral system in recent history.

Fair Voting BC, recognized as the official proponent group, argues that STV will lead to fairer election results, effective local representation and greater voter choice. They argue that BC-STV will give voters the power to hold politicians and political parties accountable, by giving every voter a vote that actually makes a difference. If the STV system is approved, then it will be put into use for the first time for the 2013 provincial election.

The recognized opponent group is the No STV Campaign Society. Their arguments are that STV will give larger ridings, voters would be unsure of whom their MLA would be, there would be unequal geographic representation, that the counting method is too complicated, the electoral system results are unverified in practical usage, the system results in a higher probability of minority governments and the subsequent coalition of parties. They also argue that other countries who use systems similar to STV have had problems with their election results.

$500,000 in public funding has been given to both the proponents and the opponents of the referendum.


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