British Columbia

Electoral reform advocates hopeful after B.C. election results

Both the Greens and the NDP campaigned for electoral reform and depending on how the B.C. election results shake out, electoral reform could be on the table.

'We believe that parties who are committed to this principle should move ahead directly'

B.C. advocates for electoral reform are hopeful after the results of the B.C. election. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

B.C.'s nail-biting provincial election — which saw the vote split between the Liberals and the NDP, with the Greens holding the balance of power — has some advocates of electoral reform hopeful that changes could be coming soon.

Although absentee ballots are still being counted, the Liberals won 43 seats, one seat short of a majority. The NDP won 41 seats and the Green Party took three seats.

Both the Greens and the NDP have promised to implement proportional representation, if elected, and electoral reform could become an important bargaining chip if the Liberals form a coalition government with the Greens or if the NDP and Greens make their own coalition government.

"This is the most exciting election anyone has seen in a very long time, that's for sure," said Antony Hodgson, president of Fair Voting B.C., a non-partisan and non-profit organization that advocates for electoral reform.

Every vote counts

Hodgson said the system he would like to see is one where every voter's vote counts equally in the makeup of the legislature.

Currently, B.C. — like the rest of Canada — has a system of first-past-the-post where individual candidates who win the most votes in their riding win their seat.

The problem with this system, critics say, is that the party with the highest number of votes may not actually capture the most seats.

A system like the single transferable vote, Hodgson says, would allocate seats proportionately, according to the vote. 

In this election, for example, the Green Party — which won roughly 17 per cent of the popular vote — would get 14 or 15 seats rather than 3.

Hodgson says this kind of proportional system — which is used in Australia and New Zealand —  would lead to more stability and less regional polarization.

"In general, if no one party has full control over the agenda, then they actually have to take into account the policies and perspectives of other people," he said.

"What that leads to is public policy that accurately reflects majority opinion."

Skip the referendum

Hodgson said he doesn't see the point in putting the question of electoral reform to a provincial referendum.

"Equal representation is actually a civil right. It's a Charter right," he said.

"We don't think Charter rights are fundamentally fair game for referenda ... We believe that parties who are committed to this principle should move ahead directly."

Electoral reform has been a contentious issue at the federal and provincial level.

Two previous referendums in B.C. on electoral reform have failed.

Critics also say ruling parties are reluctant to make changes to a system that benefits them.

In the end, Hodgson said it's about giving voters maximum choice.

"[We want to] ensure that voters had the maximum choice possible, that they would be able to choose, not just on the basis of party, but indeed on the basis of the individual candidates that the parties were presenting to them."

Listen to the interview with Anthony Hodgson on CBC's The Early Edition