Monday, January 19, 2009

From BC-STV to FSA


Last Saturday the Globe and Mail published a column by Gordon Gibson, who was, in the days when Social Credit ruled BC, leader of the provincial Liberal Party and is now, along with Preston Manning, a Senior Fellow of the Fraser Institute.

In 2002 Mr. Gibson was appointed by the Premier to be the architect of the Citizens’ Assembly, a body specifically constituted to consider BC’s electoral system. It ultimately came up with a “made-in-BC” system called “BC-Single Transferable Vote” which was put to referendum and lost narrowly (just under 58%; it needed 60%) during the last provincial election. Because the result was so close, it’s up for referendum again.

Naturally Mr Gibson claims it could pass this time. “Good ideas can be contagious” he says. “British Columbia may decide to lead the way” for the rest of Canada, he says.

Not a chance, I say. The proponents will be lucky to get 40% this time. I may have changed my mind and voted “yes” last time, but I’m changing my mind back. And I’m betting at least 18% of yes voters are on the same page.

This time we have maps. Our area (North Island-South Coast, 4 seats) would consist of the mainland from Howe Sound north to nearly Bella Bella, plus the entire Island north of a line drawn between Qualicum and Port Renfrew. Mid-Island (4 seats) would cover the east coast from Qualicum to the Malahat. The capital Region would cover the rest of the Island: Saanich, Victoria, Sooke, and the southern Gulf Islands (7 seats). Imagine living in, say, Port Hardy and trying to figure out which of your four representatives is going to deal with the fact that you don’t have an ambulance service on weekends, or that your mill is closing. Imagine trying to decide who to vote for when you’ve never met any of the candidates and there are 24 on the ballot.

Imagine being a candidate, trying to run a campaign.

Last time we actually had an incentive to vote yes: we had Gordon Campbell’s virtual dictatorship (3 NDPers, and no Official Opposition) to remind us why our present system sucks. This time the system still sucks, but at least we have an opposition; we’ve lost the urgency of the call for electoral reform.

I hate our present system, but BC-STV no longer seems like any kind of solution. It just seems eccentric and opaque.


Mr Gibson also made an either astonishingly-naive or calculatedly-provocative claim when he predicted that the NDP could win the next provincial election: “Ms James is the way to bet as of today.”

Today a Mustel Group poll was released showing the BCLiberals ahead by 14%, and yes, in spite of my partisan inclinations, I’m taking bets from anyone who thinks the NDP can be the next government of BC!

Not to worry: Gibson doesn’t actually believe that the NDP could win, or he’d have dragged out many more of the usual canards about the BCNDP than the two he couldn’t resist: “the old class warriors still to be found in the NDP backrooms” and “”big unions will still be with the New Democrats”.

So yesterday, Gordon.

But in tactics, so Socred. Remember the “Socialists at the gates”? Remember the “red tide” threatening BC freedoms? The barbarians are upon us; everybody chip in, and we’ll defeat them before they take over!

His column is just one of the first shots in an election campaign.


The BC Teachers’ Federation is running television ads exposing (just in case we’ve gotten used to the current situation) what the government has done to public education since it was elected in 2001.

Why on earth would they do that in January? The election isn’t until May, and anything said to influence voters today will be overwhelmed by then.

Well, they can’t do it closer to the election date, because that would be illegal. As of this election, all third parties are limited to spending $3000 per constituency (about $150,000 provincially) on any communications that could affect the election outcome in the three months before the election. That means for those three months political parties control the message, and those parties with the deepest pockets have the advantage.

Guess which party has no problem raising money? Guess which interests provide it?

Hint: it’s not unions. Or individuals.


The BCTF is being beaten up in the press for its opposition to the Foundations Skills Assessment tests to be written in grades 4 and 7 in February.

It is evident that to most journalist this opposition looks like nothing much more profound that teacher insubordination, likely based on their unwillingness to have their work assessed. The fact that many teacher spokespersons drag out questionable anecdotes about emotional trauma suffered by some vulnerable students doesn’t help with this perception.

What’s lost in all the journalistic noise is the fact that the BCTF position is more nuanced than a mere boycott: the official position is that the tests are fine as long as they’re not used to draw conclusions about individual students or the schools they go to.

I’m no longer in any way connected to this issue, but I suspect the Federation isn’t exactly leading the parade: I think teachers have really had their buttons pushed by this test. How else to interpret an 85% vote in favour of boycott when it doesn’t directly affect the vast majority of teachers?

The real killer for teachers, I suspect, is that they resent having to spend the time to prepare their students for writing these tests, resent having to spend time marking them, and resent the millions spend on administering and reporting on them. This is especially so because they do not find the tests useful either for their work with students, or for their students. Teachers know that parents get more reliable and more useful information directly from them, and they know that the use the Fraser Institute makes of the results is overtly political.

I have no doubt that the government will attempt to use the boycott to deflect attention from their less-than-brilliant record in dealing with public education. If I’m right about the origins of that boycott, they risk stirring up hornets.


Wayne Smith said...

Under BC-STV, you will have four MLAs. Pick the one you like to work on your problem, or get all four of them going.

The candidates will still be knocking on your door. Vote for the ones you know and like.

Please take another look at BC-STV. It is a system designed by citizens like you and me, after extensive study and debate, with no other agenda than to make democracy work better for everyone in BC.

BC-STV offers a rare chance to give voters the power to hold politicians and political parties accountable, and to change the political dialogue from one of confrontation to one of cooperation.

For more info:

Willem said...

Yup - If you're now living in a swing riding then under BC-STV it won't be so easy for politicians to ignore your concerns! Also, if there is a local issue you only need one of your local representatives to start raising a fuss about it to force all of them to pay attention to the issue.

Good local representation is, I believe, one of the strengths that voters like about STV in Ireland.

Mark Crawford said...

SOme very astute comments about both BC-STV and GOrdon Gibson.

My own reflections led me to advocate a milder version of STV (retain single member seats in large northern ridings; have dual constituencies in rest of interior; and triple ridings in greater Vancouver and Greater Victoria.) That would have shaken things up; given the Greens the influence they deserved (since there would have been strong competition between LIbs and NDP for Greens' second preferences); and still denied the Greens or the CONservatives the influence they don;t deserve( i.e. they would have been unlikely to have the balance of power in the legislature). It IS desirable to improve proportionality and to force parties to appeal to a broader swathe of voters, but the "perfect is the enemy of the good" and the huge ridings in the north and the huge ballots in the south went too far.