Paul Wells offers some thoughts as to why the Single Transferable Vote referendum failed yesterday. Let me offer a couple more.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform (CAER) was billed as this great experiment in grassroots democracy: take 160 random B.C. residents, put them together in the same room, mix in some political scientists and theory on electoral systems, bake for one year, and out pops a delicious new made in British Columbia electoral system. What could possible go wrong?


The CAER had virtually no constraints. “Go find us a new electoral system!”, they were told, and far and wide did they search until they came across a system that was everything to everyone and entirely convoluted. Was anyone truly surprised? Anyone that’s ever served on a committee shouldn’t.

The CAER, as noble of an exercise it may have been, did not observe the golden rule of change management: people hate change (this mantra is known to everyone who’s ever worked on an IT or “business process improvement” project). The reforms they were promoting were too big of step away from the status quo, and it likely made voters extremely uncomfortable.

As well, the CAER exercise was not a political exercise, yet the adoption of STV was entirely a political exercise. This disconnect made selling the system extremely difficult. There should have been former politicians from all stripes advising the CAER. For all the good policy STV was, the politics of STV were untenable.

OK, Johnny, if you’re so smart, what would you have done differently?

I would argue incremental reform is a better tactic. Imagine the exact same system as we have now, except we elected our MLA or MP via instant-runoff voting. This system is easy to understand (many political parties more or less use this system for electing their leaders), easy to count, and offers a solution to many of the problems in our current system (vote splitting, strategic voting, wasted votes, majorities being elected by a minority of people).

However, a lot of what people percieve as problems with our current system can be delt with outside of electoral reform and referenda.

If you want to have more civil proceedings in the House of Commons or the Legislature, have the Speaker ban heckling and force the Government to do its best to answer questions posed to it. Remove “privilege” from slanderous statements made against citizens. Make free votes the norm.

If you want to see more women or visible minorities elected, get involved at your local riding association to nominate these people. It’s not that voters are against voting for non-white males, it’s that white-males keep securing the party nomination.

If you want to see youth more engaged in politics, add a manditory “civics” course on government and democracy to the high school ciriculum. Is it any surprise youth are disengaged from a system they don’t understand?

As it stands now, electoral reform is likely a dead issue for a decade or two (some say an entire political generation), but the three things I listed above could be done by the next election (in 2013!) if the political will was there. So while the STV loss is disapointing for many, there’s still plenty of avenues for us to improve our democracy between now and the next election.