Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Close results prove that in BC politics every vote counts!

At a time of steadily declining voter participation where now even the most innocuous comments by politicians and their staff gets vilified by reporters, (public eye online) is it any wonder that the majority of British Columbians are now completely disengaged from the political process?

But as fewer and fewer people vote , those that do are finding their vote counts more than ever. Just take the recent election here in British Columbia. Not one but two results have been overturned by careful recounts by Elections BC. And it is even more significant that the margins of victory were very, very small indeed.

The most high profile result is that Independent Vicki Huntington has defeated Liberal and BC’s current Attorney General by 32 votes. On election night he was leading by only three votes. The matter could very well go to a judicial recount but it looks like for now that Vicki Huntington is the first Independent to be elected an MLA here in BC since the 1940s.

As I referenced in my previous column, (Check here) Huntington’s election is a clear demonstration that voters want MLAs who are able to represent the concerns of their constituents rather than just that of the Premier’s Office. Most interesting of all, for me at least, is the fact that both the Green and even most of the NDP vote collapsed in Delta South and went over to Huntington. This shows me that many Green and NDP voters are not actually that enamoured with either party but are looking for something that allows them to voice their concerns to Victoria.

In the recounts there was also a bit of good news for Premier Gordon Campbell. In its official recount Elections BC stated that BC Liberal Donna Barnett had defeated incumbent BC NDP MLA Charlie Wyse in Cariboo-Chilcotin by 88 votes. Wyse had just squeeked in the previous election and had led on election night. He has now graciously conceded defeat to Barnett who will now be joining her Liberal colleagues for a swearing in ceremony on June 8th.

Even in cases where elections weren’t overturned there were many ridings where candidates won or lost by only about 500 votes. Here in Victoria, where I live, Liberal cabinet ministers Murray Coell (Saanich North) and Ida Chong (Oak Bay Gordon Head) hung with only about 500 votes. I had met with Ida Chong during the election campaign and she was extremely worried that supporters in her constituency were taking her re-election for granted. It turns out she was right.

I think the close results were both a bit of a shock and a wakeup call to Murray Coell. He is no longer the MLA of a safe riding but a swing riding and thus will have to put considerably more efforts into securing the support of his constituents if he wants to be re-elected in 2013.

On the other hand was the result in Saanich South where former television and radio personality Robin Adair came within 500 votes of taking Saanich South for the Liberals. It was a tough loss for Mr. Adair but he did reduce the NDP’s margin of victory in half from the previous provincial election.

Both on a provincial basis and on a constituency basis the challenge is clear to somehow reengage the voters. To do that MLAs have to be allowed to do their jobs. For that to be accomplished the Premier’s Office is going to have to relinquish some power and control. The media is also going to have to stop reporting on minutiae and politicians themselves and are going to have to learn to say enough is enough when it comes to the petty condemnation that comes with every minor indiscretion and miscue.

This column has also been posted on Vancouverite and the Western Standard's Shotgun blog.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist

Friday, May 15, 2009

Seinfeld election hands threepeat to Campbell

It was in the end a Seinfeld election, an election about nothing. The campaign started off with some high profile environmentalists slagging the NDP for its promise to end the carbon tax and ended with a plea from Campbell to re-elect his government to help see BC through the worst global economic calamity since the Great Depression.

Along the way we had Ray Lam resigning as an NDP candidate because of a few inappropriate pictures on Facebook and John van Dongen resigning as Solicitor General because of too many speeding tickets. But in the end less than half of British Columbians could be bothered to vote in an election where they felt the choice was between cream of wheat and porridge.

The fact is that democracy is slowly dying in BC - from terminal boredom. Thanks to the internet and various social media any politician who has ever said or done anything inappropriate or perhaps even interesting is finding themselves weeded out of the political process either before or during a provincial election campaign.

Well known 24 Hours columnist and blogger Bill Tieleman has suggested that voting be made mandatory in BC. As someone who has voted in every election I strongly object to that idea. If you give people bland campaigns and politicians that aren’t allowed to say or do anything interesting then why should we be surprised when more than half the electorate doesn’t bother to vote?

The people who aren’t voting are sending a very strong message to the politicians; the problem is they aren’t listening. The public want MLAs who are actually allowed to do the job of representing their constituents

In Delta South Attorney General Wally Oppal is only at present two votes ahead of Independent candidate Vicki Huntington. In that riding both the NDP and Green vote collapsed, not because Huntington is left wing but because the people that generally vote for these left wing protest parties saw a chance to send someone to Victoria who would actually represent their interests rather than the interests of the Premier or the leader of the Official Opposition.

We need to revitalize parliamentary democracy in Canada and get more power back to the hands of voters and MLAs. First of all every party leader should have to face a recorded vote of confidence once a year from their caucus. That would make the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition far more mindful of the concerns of their fellow MLAs.

Secondly all cabinet appointments should be approved by caucus. Thus if a cabinet minister runs roughshod over backbench MLAs they may find themselves vetoed out of cabinet the next time a cabinet shuffle goes up for approval.

Independent votes should be made the norm not the exception. Imagine a Premier and cabinet that actually had to make sure the legislation they were proposing had the support of a majority of MLAs in the legislature rather than it just being a foregone conclusion. Also the parliamentary rules need to be changed so that unless it is the final vote on the provincial budget or a specific non confidence motion a defeat would not result in the government having to call an election.

Private members bills which are at present token statements of intent should be referred to legislative council that can rework them into proper legislation and time set aside for votes on these bills when they are brought back to the legislature. This might in turn lead to more bi-partisan support of legislation.

All of the aforementioned would greatly increase the functionality of the legislature and once again enable MLAs to do a much better job of representing their constituents and the collective interests of our province.

One thing the Premier could also do is pass legislating stating that whenever a vacancy occurs in the Federal Senate that a province wide election will be held to fill that position. I am sure that is a move that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would support and once firmly established as a precedent would eventually result in other provinces following suit and us actually having a democratically elected Senate in Canada.

Finally we need to make it much easier for referenda to happen here in BC. According to a recent Vancouver Sun poll 65% of British Columbians support the decriminalization of marijuana. So let’s have a vote on it. I am sure there are many other issues people might also want to see put forward in a province wide referendum.

The fact is that unless or until we flow some democratic power out of the Premier’s Office and back into cabinet, our MLAs and ultimately ourselves as citizens, voter turnout will continue to decline and deservedly so.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist

Bill Tieleman is a columnist and blogger for 24 Hours. Read it HERE Also here is a linkback to this column by Tieleman located here.

This story has also been posted on Vancouverite and at the Western Standard's Shotgun Blog.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What the hell is STV and is it contagious?

The STV or single transferrable vote is an issue that British Columbians will be asked to vote to approve or reject on May 12th. It is an issue that has received relatively little coverage in an election campaign that seems to have garnered little interest from voters. But STV holds the potential to radically alter the way in which we elect our politicians here in British Columbia.

In order to pass it needs 60% of voters to approve it. Current polls suggest that the public is evenly divided on the issue. Instead of the present first past the post system where we have 85 ridings each electing one MLA, STV would instead have only 20 ridings each electing 5 to 7 MLAs.

Obviously in rural areas these ridings would be huge and would include about 350,000 people each. Instead of voting for your favourite candidate, you would have the option to vote for up to seven candidates you like much like you do when you vote in a municipal election. As is the case in a municipal election you do not have to vote for all seven positions. You can instead plump your ballot by only voting for one or two or three candidates the choice is yours.

The theory is that by having this municipal style voting at the provincial level it would result in more representative government. It would certainly help the Green Party which routinely gets around 12% of the vote but has yet to ever elect an MLA.
Under STV it is likely that instead of being shut out, the Greens would finally get some MLAs elected. That is why people who support the Green Party of BC have been speaking out in favour of STV. STV also has other more conservative supporters such as former Socred MLA Nick Loenen.

These supporters, I presume, believe that under STV it would allow Liberals to run as Liberals and Conservatives as Conservatives without causing a vote split that would allow the NDP to win as would be the case under our present first past the post system.

But STV has its critics, most notably Bill Tielman of the BC NDP who feels that STV would make politicians even less accountable to the voters and even more beholding to their political party. He notes that Malta which has an STV system has not elected an independent politician since the 1950s or a third party candidate since the 1960s.

Ireland, which also uses the STV system, seems to be an example of where party discipline takes precedence over all other matters. However is our first past the post system that much different?

Perhaps the most troubling fact about STV is the complicated system used to figure out who has actually won an election. According to the Citizen’s Assembly which recommended adoption of this system, “The BC-STV system recommended by the Citizen’s Assembly uses the Weighted Inclusive Gregory method under which all votes are counted and assigned to other candidates still in the count according to the voters’ preferences, but the ballots are given separate transfer values depending on their origin (that is, whether they are first preferences, or transfers from one or more other candidates).”

With both the BC Liberals and BC NDP opposing this change it is my prediction that STV will fall short of the 60% required to be approved in this election.

However this is such a sleeper election that who knows what could happen. On May 13th we may have woken up to Carole James as the Premier and STV being the way we are going to elect BC politicians for at least the next three elections. That is why it is best you to take the time to inform yourself and vote on May 12th.

Please note that this story has also been posted on The Western Standard's Shotgun Blog as well as in Vancouverite.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist