The Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform submitted its final report to the provincial government on Friday, Dec. 10, wrapping up close to a year of study and discussions. The final step will be a referendum on May 17, when British Columbians will vote on the assemblys recommendation for a single transferable vote system.
A new "Yes" campaign, led by members of the assembly, will promote the recommendation to the public between now and May 17, when the next provincial government is elected. If the referendum is successful, the 2009 provincial election will be held according to the single transferable vote system proposed by the assembly. In the meantime, a copy of the assemblys report will be distributed to every household in B.C. in January.
For years, British Columbias "first past the post" electoral system has been debated by political pundits, usually after elections when political parties become acutely aware of the difference between the popular vote and the make-up of the Legislature.
In the 2001 provincial election, the B.C. Liberal Party won 58 per cent of the popular vote but took 77 of 79 seats in the Legislature. The incumbent NDP, which earned almost 22 per cent of the popular vote, won just two seats. (The NDP has since gained one seat in a by-election.)
In the previous election the Liberals got the short end of the post when they won the popular vote by more than 40,000 ballots, 41.8 per cent of the vote compared to the NDPs 39.5 per cent. But the Liberals only claimed 33 seats to the NDPs 39.
As part of a campaign promise to look at alternatives to the first past the post system, the Liberal government created the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform at the beginning of 2004. The Citizens Assembly has 160 members a man and a woman from each electoral district in the province, plus two First Nations representatives.
In October, after 10 months of study and more than 50 public meetings, the Citizens Assembly announced its recommendations for a single transferable vote (STV), thats also known as the "easy as 1-2-3 system".
The assemblys 16-page report is available online at www.citizensassembly.bc.ca, with translations in French, Chinese and Punjabi. There is also a much longer technical document that accompanies the recommendations that explains the background of the process and how it will work.
The draft referendum question British Columbians will vote on in May reads: "Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform? Yes/No."
In releasing the first draft of the Assembly recommendations in November, chair Jack Blaney thanked Premier Gordon Campbell for supporting the group, calling the exercise unprecedented.