British Columbia·Electoral Reform

B.C.'s referendum explained: mixed 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 at 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:

Mixed member is a system used in countries throughout the world, and it derives its name from the mix of how politicians are chosen: some directly in ridings, others through a system that gives each party a certain number of MLAs based on an overall total of votes.

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

In one sentence

Mixed member proportional lets people directly pick their local representative but creates a second layer of MLAs that are chosen based on the percentage of votes parties receive in different regions of B.C.

What would the ballot look like?

People would have a list of candidates in their riding and choose one, same as currently.

People would have a list of candidates in their riding and choose one, same as currently. (CBC)

There could also be a second voting option on the ballot, to choose the second layer of MLAs, but that will be decided after the referendum by an all-party committee.

"It creates two types of representatives. One who is chosen by voters, much as we currently do within a given riding, and others that are chosen from larger aggregated districts," said UBC political scientist Max Cameron, who gave advice to Attorney General David Eby during the province's consultation process.   

How would MLAs be determined?

For the first layer of MLAs, the candidate with the most votes in each riding is elected, keeping the current first-past-the-post system (although the ridings will be larger).

For the second layer of MLAs, in each region of the province another group would be appointed, based on the percentage of the vote each party received in that region.

For the first layer of MLAs, the candidate with the most votes in each riding is elected. For the second layer of MLAs in each region of the province, another group would be appointed, based on the percentage of the vote each party received in that region. (CBC)

As an example, in the Okanagan, there are currently seven MLAs elected in seven ridings. With mixed member proportional, you could have four MLAs chosen in individual ridings and four list PR MLAs determined by overall vote percentages in the region.

So, if the NDP won none of the four Okanagan seats but received 25 per cent of the total vote in the Okanagan (as happened last election), they could receive two of the second layer MLAs.

What are the advantages of this system?

"MMP in some ways is, I wouldn't say the least risky, but the other two systems haven't been tried," said Cameron.

The system is used in several places, including Germany, New Zealand, and the regional legislatures for Scotland and Wales.

And it enables smaller parties with enough support to garner representation they wouldn't get under different systems.

"What you get is a combination, really, of first-past-the-post with a more proportional system. It's not perfectly proportional, but it's better than first-past-the-post," said Cameron.

What could be the disadvantages?

Over 60 per cent of the MLAs would still be determined under first-past-the-post rules, so if people prefer a PR system with a greater mix of representation, this system is the weakest of the three.

Also, like the other two PR systems under consideration, B.C. would likely have minority governments most of the time, which critics argue would lead to private deals made between parties to determine who holds power, and could lead to extremist parties holding the balance of power.

But Cameron says coalitions are not always negative.  

"You get a tradition of coalition making. People understand that you vote, you get a legislature, the legislature than sits down, and then there's a process of negotiation … that gives you the confidence to govern. And that's a very normal party of democracy," he said.

Would the size of my riding change?

The size of ridings would generally increase by 50 to 100 per cent.

The size of ridings would generally increase by 50 to 100 per cent. This is because, the province says, at least 60 per cent of MLAs would still be elected in individual ridings and the total number of MLAs would be no more than 95. (CBC)

This is because, the province says, at least 60 per cent of MLAs would still be elected in individual ridings and the total number of MLAs would be no more than 95.

The exact boundaries of the ridings would be determined later by an independent commission.

Could smaller parties and independents get elected?

Yes, if the party is able to garner at least five per cent of the provincewide vote.

Independents could still get elected in the individual ridings.

What would be determined after the referendum?

In short: a lot.

If chosen, exactly how an MMP system would work in B.C. would have to be determined after the election by an all-party committee. (CBC)

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

An independent electoral boundaries commission would then have to create the province's new electoral map.

But the all-party committee would have to decide whether people will vote once (for individual candidates) or twice (once for individual candidates and once for specific parties to decide the second layer of MLAs).

"There are many different ways of organizing MMP, and, so, there are some issues that I wish were clarified, I think, before we go to the referendum," said Cameron.

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.

Premier John Horgan and Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson will debate electoral reform in a discussion hosted by CBC British Columbia. Coverage will begin Nov. 8 with a pre-debate special, beginning at 6:30 p.m. PT. (Canadian Press/Mike McArthur/CBC)

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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