Set up to fail? Democracy or plutocracy?

Recent anomalies in British Columbian and Canadian election results have re-ignited electoral reform as a prominent topic of debate. The British Columbian Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in 2004 was the first successful implementation of deliberative democracy with directly legislated decision-making powers.

The assembly’s recommended voting system, the British Columbian Single-Transferable-Vote (or BC-STV), was supported by 95% of its members. However, the final recommendation was subject to a provincial referendum which only garnered 57.7% of support province-wide, falling 2.3% short of the 60% supermajority required to pass – demonstrating a vast disparity compared to its support within the Citizens’ Assembly.

Recently, I have been flooded with articles and opinions saying that BC rejected STV in the last referendum. However, I cannot possibly fathom how this argument can be legitimately made. It looks to me that BC accepted STV with a landslide in political terms. Just four years earlier, in 2001, the liberals had a “landslide victory” with 77 out of 79 seats from 57.6% of the popular vote – less than STV had when it “failed” to gain acceptance.

People from the NO-STV campaign have been kicking and screaming about the possibility of a minority getting input in making decisions. Do they not realise that they were the minority in 2005 that stopped the majority (57.7%) getting the change that they voted for?

The assembly process was designed by Hon. Gordon Gibson, a former politician and recipient of the Order of British Columbia. Following Gibson’s recommendations, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (with 77 of the 79 seats held by BC Liberals) had the final say on enacting it. The legislature included additional rules such as a 60% supermajority of the popular vote through a referendum process. The only public communication planned for the final design was a leaflet that was mailed to every house in the province five-months before the referendum.

Leading up to the 2005 referendum there was almost no campaign whatsoever and there was a strong anti-STV sentiment within the media pundits. Considering the inherent restraints and direct opposition, the Citizens’ Assembly and the electorate of British Columbia can be applauded for the success of 57.7% provincial support.

So I have a few questions.

What does the discrepancy between the Citizens’ Assembly support compared to that of the public referendum support say about the process? The assembly members were chosen from the general public. Why did the recommendation not ultimately pass at voting time? Were these eleven months and 5.5 million dollars of taxpayers’ money well spent? Was this a very expensive stunt or will it finally lead to much needed change in BC?

It’s now come to crunch time and the citizens’ of BC can either be lead into fear by those who’s interests are protected by the current FPTP system, or they can take steps of faith and lead the way for the world in adopting a system that was designed for the people, by the people, with the support of the people.

For more information read my thesis – Closing the Gap in Deliberative Democracy:? The Importance of Communication in the?Post-Deliberative Process

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