Electoral Reform

B.C.'s referendum explained: dual member proportional

Here’s a summary of how it works and what would change for voters.

Here’s a summary of how it works and what would change for voters if adopted

CBC's Justin McElroy explains one of the three proportional representation systems from which British Columbians can choose. 2:06

CBC News is taking an in depth look of B.C.'s electoral reform referendum this week

In B.C.'s electoral reform referendum, people will be asked to rank three different systems of proportional representation: dual member proportional, mixed member proportional and rural-urban proportional.

Here's a summary of how the first of those works and what would change for voters. Find summaries of the other two systems here:

A system invented by a Canadian university student that would expand riding sizes and match the vote percentage for parties to the number of seats, dual member proportional was considered by Prince Edward Island voters in a 2016 referendum but has never been used as a electoral system.

In one sentence

Dual member proportional lets people directly pick their local representative while ensuring the percentage of seats a party gets is equal to the percentage of votes they receive, through a complicated formula that determines how the second MLA in each district is chosen.

What would the ballot look like?

In B.C.'s rural ridings, the ballot would look exactly the same and one candidate would be chosen.

In B.C.'s rural ridings, the ballot would look exactly the same and one candidate would be chosen. (CBC)

In urban and semi-urban ridings, people will also only vote once, but ultimately two people would be elected.

We'll get to how that works next, but the ballot would contain both independent candidates and parties. And the parties could choose to have one person listed for each riding, or two — a primary candidate and a secondary candidate.

In B.C.'s rural ridings, the ballot would look exactly the same and one candidate would be chosen. In urban and semi-urban ridings, people will also only vote once, but ultimately two people would be elected. (CBC)

How would MLAs be determined?

The candidate or party with the most votes in each riding is elected.

In places where a party has put forward two candidates, the primary candidate is the region's first MLA.

But the second MLA is chosen in a way that ensures each party gets the same percentage of seats as percentage of votes.

"The proportionality would basically be as good as mathematically possible in B.C. Generally, a party that gets 10 per cent of the vote in DMP would get 10 per cent of the seats," said Sean Graham, who created the system in 2013 while a student at the University of Alberta.

Dual member proportional lets people directly pick their local representative while ensuring the percentage of seats a party gets is equal to the percent of votes they receive, through a complicated formula that determines how the second MLA in each district is chosen. (CBC)

The majority of time, this would mean the second place party would get the second seat, with their primary candidate in the riding becoming an MLA. Occasionally though — Graham estimates between five and ten per cent of the time — the first place party's secondary candidate would be chosen instead.

This would generally happen in ridings where a party does exceptionally well: think the NDP in some East Vancouver ridings or the B.C. Liberals in the Fraser Valley.

What are the advantages of this system?

"One of the assets is its familiarity," said Graham.

He believes it combines the most important element of first-past-the-post (a directly elected representative) and proportional representation (having a party's per cent of votes match the per cent of MLAs it elects).  

"It would do a very good job of incorporating all the regions of the province. It would allow rural areas to be completely included in the reform and it would provide provincewide proportionality. British Columbians would have a very similar voting experience when they go to the polls as they do now but would know their vote would count."

What could be the disadvantages?

The system of how individual politicians are chosen is less direct than some other forms of proportional representation — while the makeup of the legislature would match the overall vote totals, there will be dozens of MLAs chosen as the "second member" who received fewer votes than the winners in their riding.

And because the system is the only one of the three that guarantees a direct relationship between number of MLAs and number of votes, it's the most likely to create minority governments — which some argue would create more political instability and could lead to extremist parties holding the balance of power.

Would the size of my riding change?

In the majority of rural ridings, the area would be the same, but every other riding would approximately double in size.

So, in Victoria, a riding would likely be created covering the current boundaries of Victoria-Beacon Hill and Victoria-Swan Lake. Or on the North Shore, one could be created combining North Vancouver-Lonsdale with North Vancouver-Seymour.

In the majority of rural ridings, the area would be the same, but every other riding would approximately double in size. (CBC)

Could smaller parties and independents get elected?

Parties would have to receive at least five per cent of the provincewide vote to have members elected — but once they clear that threshold, they'd be guaranteed to receive the same per cent of seats as per cent of votes they got.

In addition, they would automatically take any seats where they got the most votes, even if they failed to cross the five per cent provincewide threshold.

What would be determined after the referendum?

Like the other two systems on the ballot, an all-party legislative committee would decide the total number of MLAs — either a specific number or a general range, with a maximum of 95 in total.

An independent electoral boundaries commission would then have to create the province's new electoral map, including how many ridings would be considered rural single-member districts and the exact size of the dual-member urban districts. 

CBC Vancouver will have special coverage of the debate between B.C. Premier John Horgan and Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson on Thursday, Nov. 8, starting at 6:30 p.m. PT on CBC TelevisionCBC Radio OneCBC British Columbia's website, CBC Vancouver's Facebook page, and @CBCNewsBC Periscope.

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.