Electoral reform returns to the agenda in British Columbia

Posted on the 18th May 2017

British Columbia, Canada’s most Western province, has often been the site of electoral reform intrigue. In the run up to the 1952 provincial election the Conservative and Liberal parties tried to stop the socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) from winning a majority by changing to the Alternative Vote system. Instead the Social Credit party emerged as the largest and changed the system back in 1953, it would go on to win every election except one until its demise in 1991.

1996 saw the New Democratic Party, the CCF’s successor, win a majority despite winning 2% fewer votes than the Liberal Party. The following election, in 2001, saw the Liberals sweep to victory, claiming all but two seats.

A resulting Citizens Assembly asked for a referendum on changing to the proportional Single Transferable Vote system in 2005. 57.7% voted for, but the government had demanded 60% support as the price for change. A second referendum, saw STV go down to defeat.

British Columbian politics has seen a lot of flux over the years. The rise and fall of the Social Credit party, and the subsequent rise of the Liberals to fill the gap on the centre-right. Recent elections have also seen improved results for the BC Green Party who won 8% and a seat in 2013, and who have been strengthening in Vancouver, in particular.

So this year’s election was of particular interest with polls indicating a tight race between the Liberals and the NDP and a doubling, perhaps even trebling, of Green support.

Last week, British Columbians went to the polls and delivered a result so far (absentee ballots are still not counted and so the election is not quite final) that looks like this:

Party Vote % Seats
Liberals 40.8% 43
NDP 39.9% 41
Greens 16.8% 3
Others 2.6%

Hence, by one seat, it looks as though British Columbia has a hung parliament.

Canada has a rich history of minority governments, both at the provincial and federal level, some of which was explored in our report Working Together.

3 of 87 seats is hardly representative for a party that won 1 out of 6 votes, and while FPTP has translated a thin victory in votes into a thin victory into seats, as 1996 proved, this was far from guaranteed.

The Greens have left open the possibility of working with either party, but given that both they and the NDP back electoral reform, given the multi-party and volatile British Columbian political scene isn’t it about time that seats in their parliament matched how British Columbians voted?

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