Some thoughts on the BC election/electoral reform referendum yesterday:
Gordon Campbell comes through again, winning a third straight term as Liberal premier, which makes him only one of four leaders to be elected 3 straight terms. Whether you like him or not, that’s impressive. That’s my one thought on the general election; the rest of this blogpost deals with the failure of STV to pass in the electoral reform referendum.
I’m disappointed that STV failed, though not really surprised, as it appeared it was going to have difficulty passing when in the last few weeks of the campaign, polls had it slipping. What is surprising to me though is how much of a turnaround there has been in the last 4 years. When it was last voted on in BC, it had 58% (Even in a poll taken in March, it was at 65% support). Now, there’s been almost a complete flip on the numbers against it. I wasn’t following the part of the electoral referendum campaign as it pertained to the advertising campaign for and against it, but I’m going to be interested to find out why exactly the No-STV side was able to strike a chord this time with the public to turn them against the exact same system that almost got passed last time.
Regardless of the exact reasons, the folks who are for electoral reform are going to have to re-think their strategy, I believe; particularly the folks at Fair Vote Canada. Obviously, something in the strategy for selling electoral reform is not working, or else they are not countering the “status quo” folks arguments very well. I believe they are going to have to open their minds to the fact that perhaps Canadians aren’t ready to embrace such big change in voting systems, and perhaps be flexible in not rejecting out of hand other electoral reforms not as wide-sweeping as they’d like.
For example, I know lots of people at FVC automatically reject Instant-Runoff-Voting as a voting model (some of those folks have called IRV worse then FPTP), but perhaps that’s what they’re going to need to aim for. I was not a big fan of IRV either back in 2007, and posted against it, but after the rejection of MMP in Ontario in 2007, I had to take into account that perhaps that was the voting system that would have the best chance to pass a public that may be more resistant to changes in the voting system then anticipated. I know Matt Guerin of Liberals for Electoral Reform felt the same way as I did, and I think the Fair Vote people are going to have to acknowledge that with the Ontario result and especially the BC one. This is a province that is supposed to be the most ripe for electoral reform, and we instead saw a massive rejection of change. Pro-electoral reformers can blame Carole James and the NDP all they want for not supporting STV, but I don’t think her views on the system caused such a massive flip in voter sentiment against that system from 4 years ago. Perhaps more piecemeal change is what is needed to be aimed for. I’m told the FVC folks are having a conference in June in Ottawa to discuss approaches to better selling electoral reform, and that would be one of my first suggestions; do not discount voter models you may not like, but may be more sellable to Canadians.
Related to that, I’m half-beginning to think Citizen’s Assemblies need to be ditched as the avenue for proposing electoral reforms, as they’re 0 for 2 (maybe 0 for 3, if the PEI vote on electoral reform a few years ago was also a Citizens Assembly recommendation that PEI voters rejected). Apparently, voters don’t trust their fellow citizens in making voter reform recommendations, so maybe it really does need a panel of academics, political scientists, and politicians to make a more convincing case.
One thing that those who are anti-electoral reform can’t ignore; something clearly needs to be done to reform the electoral system, or make it so that more people feel their vote matters, because yet again, in yet another election, we see very poor voter turnout. When I last looked, voter turnout was down near only 49%, so less then half of BC voters who were eligible to vote had bothered to exercise that choice. Those numbers may go up when the full vote has been counted, but it still is lamentable.
Last point of mine is that this should not end the fight for electoral reform nationally or in other provinces. With declining voter turnout in provincial and national elections, something obviously is causing voter disconnect, and something needs to be done to counter it. I do not accept the argument that the status quo is all hunky-dory; the voter turnout rate declining with every election is proof of that.
UPDATE 2 @ 12:31 pm: Another Liberal blogger, Danielle, agrees in a way with me; her view is not only should IRV not be discounted, but it must be the de facto choice of the electoral reform movement in Canada.