Citizens’ Referendum on Electoral Reform

By: Katherine Gordon

Sometime in the last week or so, everyone should have received in the mail a copy of a booklet explaining the recommended change to the provincial electoral system that came out of the Citizens' Assembly process last year. On May 17 this year, at the same time as the provincial election, we all get to vote on whether we want to change the system.

I'll declare my bias upfront: I'm all in favour of reform. I want government to be accountable to the people. I therefore appeared at the Assembly twice to recommend reform to a system that embraces proportional representation over winner-takes-all, once in Nanaimo and at the main assembly last September in Vancouver. Believe it or not, for me it isn't about politics here: my interest is simply seeing a government in place that speaks for and accounts to all British Columbians, not just some of them, which is my definition of real democracy.

My neighbour asked me if his vote would actually count under the new system: the answer is yes. Under the current system, it only counts if you voted for the winner of the two parties in the race. The pros and cons of the new system versus the old are not the subject of this column, however. You can decide those for yourself.

The most important thing to me is that on May 17 British Columbians actually take the time to vote in the referendum, and that they do so fully understanding their choice. Then the outcome will really reflect what the people of this province think: we have never had a chance to have a say on the system before now. The only wrong choice, in my view, will be apathy.

So one thing I've been perturbed to hear is people remarking that it "all sounds too complicated." It's not. Please don't let that hold you back from voting. If nothing else, read pages 4 and 5 of the booklet – they contain good plain-language explanations of the current system, as well as the proposed system, the single transferable vote, or STV. How does it work, in really simple terms?

You'll get to vote for several MLAs in your riding instead of just one. You even get to rank them in the order you prefer them. The ones who win the seats will be the ones who get the most votes in the order in which people vote for them. It's a proportional system that doesn't sacrifice regional representation. The only thing complicated about STV will be the formula that is used to attribute the votes. On that one, we just have to trust the system, as we do now.

How many of you can recite how the interest on your mortgage is calculated, or your power bill is worked out? Do you refrain from driving because you don't know exactly how a car works? If you know how to choose your five or six most preferred people out of a list and check the boxes next to their names, then you understand STV. The one place in life where we have absolute power over government is in the voting booth. On May 17, go ahead – celebrate that power. Think about how you want to exercise that power, and make your choice. It's the only way we are all going to know what British Columbians want.

Katherine Gordon is a freelance writer and author living on Gabriola Island. Her submission on electoral reform can be viewed on the Citizens' Assembly website at .