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Quotas, Fines and Yes-No Votes: An Update on British Columbia's Citizens' Assembly

I just received a press release from the groundbreaking Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The Assembly is an independent, representative, non-partisan group of 160 randomly selected British Columbians. They must decide by December 15 whether to propose a change to BC’s electoral system. If they recommend a change, it will be the subject of a referendum for all voters in the May 2005 provincial election. Click below to read the entire press release about last week’s public hearings in Port McNeill, Courtenay, Nanaimo and Vancouver.

QUOTAS, FINES, AND YES-NO VOTES

A quota system to ensure better representation of women in the B.C. legislature. . . . Fines for failure to go to the polling station on election day. . . . Giving voters both a “yes” vote and a “no” vote to use for and against candidates. . . . Voting for one half of our MLAs every two years, or three, as a means of moderating swings in policy.

All were among ideas presented to members of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in their public hearings last week in Port McNeill, Courtenay, Nanaimo and Vancouver. Hearings now continue in Surrey on Monday night (May 31), followed by Coquitlam on Tuesday night, North Vancouver on Wednesday night, Whistler on Thursday night and both Abbotsford and Sechelt on Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday’s hearing in Coquitlam will be the halfway mark in the Assembly’s series of 50 public hearings, all over B.C., in May and June. A full schedule of hearings – as well as information on how to sign up to make a presentation – is on the Assembly’s website at www.citizensassembly.bc.ca.

At the Vancouver hearing Saturday, Janet Wiegand noted that while females make up roughly 51% of the B.C. population, women have never made up more than 28% of the MLAs, and that dropped to 24% in 2001. She proposed a “proactive measures” that would ensure men and women each got a minimum of 40% of the seats in the legislature.

“Proactive measures are also called quotas. When I hear that word I cringe, but there is a precedent: That is how members of the Citizens’ Assembly were selected, one man and one woman from each constituency.”

The call for compulsory voting came in Vancouver from John Dennison. He cited Australia, where there is a $100 fine for failure to go to the polling station. But presenters Tim Howard and David Black objected. Howard said voters have a right not to vote, as an expression of their views, and compulsory voting would probably be unconstitutional. Black agreed: “If people don’t want to vote, or can’t be bothered, that’s their choice.”

From the audience of 70, one man suggested, instead, that people be paid $100 to cast their vote. “It would make politics more fun.”

Many presenters and speakers from the audiences at the week’s four hearings called for more proportional representation in our B.C. electoral system, and many specified the mixed member proportional representation system (MMP). Among them, 20-year-old Eric Brown said in Port McNeill Tuesday: “Proportional representation facilitates the creation of policies that reflect the interests of a larger segment of society.”

In Nanaimo Thursday, presenter Robert Baker proposed before a crowd of 140 that the Assembly retain the current, first-past-the-post electoral system – but with the added feature of giving voters both a “yes” vote and a “no” vote. Candidates’ “no” votes would be subtracted from their “yes” votes to determine their tally. This, Baker argued, would encourage MLAs to keep their promises and pay more attention to their constituents.

Another refinement to the current system came in Vancouver from Doug Wright. Instead of 79 MLAs who each represent a local constituency, he proposed a house of 75 members: 40 members elected at the local district level, 20 more at the “small regional district level”, 10 more at a “medium large regional district level” and a final five at a “large regional district level.” Voters thus would have four votes, one for each district.

The suggestion of voting for half of B.C.’s MLAs every two or three years came up at two meetings (Courtenay and Vancouver). And other food-for-thought ideas during the week included:

– Returning to formal enumerations prior to elections
– Pre-registering Grade 12 students for the electoral list
– Legislation to hold majority governments accountable for keeping their campaign promises
– A second round of public hearings after the Citizens’ Assembly issues its recommendation of an electoral system
– Including party symbols on the ballot paper to assist illiterate citizens

The Assembly is an independent, representative, non-partisan group of 160 randomly selected British Columbians. They must decide by December 15 whether to propose a change to BC’s electoral system. If they recommend a change, it will be the subject of a referendum for all voters in the May 2005 provincial election.

Marilyn Jacobson
Director of Communication
Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform
mjacobson@citizensassembly.bc.ca
(604) 660-1363 or 1-866-667-1232
Cell: 604-816-1232
Fax: (604) 660-1236
2288 – 555 W. Hastings, Vancouver, BC V6B 4N6
www.citizensassembly.bc.ca

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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