Finally, it's Psam's big chance! We have a unique, never to be repeated moment in British Columbia political history that is almost scripted for Psalm to come to the forefront and lead us to a new world of totally fair and representative voting. But I'm going to have to go into details on our recent provincial election and it's consequences to explain how Psam can triumph.
All of the Canadian provinces have governments organized on parliamentary principles essentially the same as the federal government. We have an equivalent to the federal parliament called the British Columbia Legislative Assembly. The head of the British Columbia government is the premier. We don't vote directly for the premier like Americans vote for their president. We vote only for whomever is running in our local riding. Whichever party gets the most seats in the Legislature forms the government and the party leader, chosen by party members rather than the voting populace, becomes premier.
British Columbia has only three political parties with any chance of getting any seats in the legislature, the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, and the Green Party. In the past the Greens have had elected, at best, one seat in the legislature. The Liberals were, until very recently, in power for sixteen years with majority governments. Majority governments are almost guaranteed provincially since we essentially have only two parties, the Liberals and NDP, that get a significant number of seats.
There are 87 seats in the provincial legislature and, going into the recent provincial election in May the Liberals had 47 seats, the NDP 35 seats and the Greens 1 seat. This doesn't add up to 87 because of vacancies and new seats this election. After the vote was in the seat totals were 43 for the Liberals, 41 for the NPD, and 3 for the Greens. This was actually an historic election for a number of reasons. It was British Columbia's first minority government since 1952, essentially my lifetime, and it was the first election anywhere in Canada where the Greens got more than one seat. However while they got only 3 seats they had actually received 17% of the popular vote. This would have entitled them to 15 seats on a representation by population basis. As I'll explain in a moment this disparity is fuelling Psam's chances.
For the first time in Canada's electoral history the Greens held the balance of power. They could support the Liberal government and keep it in power or side with the NDP and bring the government down through a no confidence vote. This is a no confidence vote.
In federal politics, a vote of no confidence takes down the government, and votes of no confidence may be asserted automatically if the House of Commons rejects the government's budget. Provincial governments may also fall if a motion of no confidence is passed by the legislature or if the legislature fails to pass a confidence measure (e.g. the provincial budget).
Budget votes are always non confidence votes. The federal government fell in 2011 as a result of losing the budget vote and had to call a general election. This is a critical difference from the American system where a government stands until the end of its term regardless of its popularity or wishes of the non-ruling parties. If a government loses a non confidence vote it automatically falls and we either have another election or another party takes over and forms the government. The choice of which path to take is the decision of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The LG is an appointed official tasked with the role of representing the Queen in British Columbia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieutenant_Governor_of_British_Columbia
Generally this just means a tiresome grind of ribbon cutting and pointless dreary speeches;
The viceroy is also expected to undertake various ceremonial roles. The lieutenant governor, him or herself a member and Chancellor of the order, will induct deserving individuals into the Order of British Columbia and, upon installation, automatically becomes a Knight or Dame of Justice and the Vice-Prior in British Columbia of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. The viceroy further presents other provincial honours and decorations, as well as various awards that are named for and presented by the lieutenant governor; these are generally created in partnership with another government or charitable organization and linked specifically to their cause. These honours are presented at official ceremonies, which count amongst hundreds of other engagements the lieutenant governor partakes in each year, either as host or guest of honour; the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia undertook 350 engagements in 2006 and 390 in 2007.
However there is one role the Lieutenant Governor fills, one that has been very rarely called upon in British Columbia but which was absolutely critical in this election cycle. As I wrote above;
If a government loses a non confidence vote it falls and we either have another election or another party takes over and forms the government. The choice of which path to take is the decision of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.
The Lieutenant Government can chose not to call an election after a non confidence vote but instead pass power to another party if the LG thinks that the other party has a chance of effectively ruling.
So, having set the background, on to current events. The NDP and the Greens banded together in a shaky coalition to defeat the Liberals. They had their chance almost immediately because a budget vote came up very shortly after the election. The coalition defeated the budget and the government fell. Another historic first. This was the first time in the history of British Columbia that a government has lost a non confidence vote. So our defeated premier Chrissie Clark went to the Lieutenant Governor and petitioned strongly to have another election. Instead the LG chose to let the coalition have a chance so the NDP/Green cabal is now our new provincial government.
Now another quirk of parliamentary government comes into play. The government in power must chose a speaker for the Legislative Assembly. The speaker has to be a sitting member of the Assembly and can't vote except in the case of a tie. So we now stand as;
Liberals - 43 seats
Coalition less speaker - 43 seats
Speaker - 1 seat.
So if one member of the coalition misses one vote for any legislation and the Liberals have full attendance the vote will fail. That's why I noted that we had a 'shaky coalition'. They could also easily fall on the budget vote they are now required to pass. This will demonstrate that they can't govern and will force another election.
I know, I know, you're asking yourself what the hell does this trivia have to do with Psam and his voting system?
No political priority looms larger for the B.C. Greens than reforming the electoral system to establish proportional representation and improve their chances of winning seats in the legislature.
The commitment is foremost in the power-sharing agreement they struck with the New Democrats for obvious reasons.
In May, the Greens won 17 per cent of the vote but only three seats. With a system that allocated representation in proportion to the share of the vote, they would have 15 seats.
Changing the electoral system to one that is more representative of the popular vote is a life or death issue for the Green Party so if the NDP don't cooperate the Greens will withdraw their support for the NDP and the NDP government will fall necessitating an election. Current polling shows the Liberals winning a new election. So this is now a priority for the NDP too. But, critically, the deal doesn't include a demand by the Greens for a specific electoral system. Any will do as long as it gives them a more balanced seat to popular vote ratio;
Still, Green Leader Andrew Weaver is not lobbying for any particular system, so long as the replacement meets the test of proportionality.
“I honestly have no preference, and the B.C. Green party has no formal preference,” he told me last week on Voice of B.C. on Shaw TV, before acknowledging the limitations of some of the options.
So this leaves the door wide open for Psam to walk in and persuade the people of British Columbia on the merits of his system. It's a unique once in a lifetime opportunity. He's spent his adult life refining his electoral system into a viable way to elect a government and it's now put up or shut up time. And he already has an advantage because of the past history of alternate systems in British Columbia.
In 2005 the provincial government, at great expense, set up a task force to review the options for a new, fairer system of electing representatives. They pondered mightily on my tax dollars searching for the fairest possible system and finally puked out a misbegotten abomination called the Single Transferable Vote system. In 2005 we had a referendum on whether we should change from our current first-past-the-post system to the STV and the STV lost. It's proponents forced yet another referendum in 2009 and that one lost by an even greater majority. Why? Because nobody had even the slightest fucking idea how it was supposed to work. Even it's supporters couldn't explain it. I mean that literally. I have a University degree and had two professional accounting designations but, even so, when we had the referendum and I read all of the information provided by the STV supporters I was totally befuddled as to how it supposedly worked. Supporters just couldn't explain how my vote actually affected anything or how it would be counted. All they provided was 'trust us' blue sky and sunshine platitudes about how fair it was. The system was so complex that the final decision of who won and who lost was to be determined by complex computer algorithms. The idea was to throw all the votes in the hopper and let the computer sort it out. So we just had to take it on trust that it was fair without having any idea about the most fundamental issue of democracy, how our votes actually determined which candidates were elected. As the article cited above says;
“The purists, as you know, love STV,” continued Weaver, referring to the single-transferable vote option that was twice put to referendum in B.C. and twice fell short of the legislated threshold for approval.
“I’m not sure British Columbians want to go and vote a third time for STV,” he said, citing the mathematical complexities of the system’s methods for counting votes and distributing seats.
“My philosophy on a system is if you can’t explain it to your grandmother, it ain’t a system that’s going to work in B.C.,” said the professor-politician with a doctorate in applied mathematics. “I don’t think I could explain it to you.”
And another preferred system, at least by the government in power, has little popular support;
He also gave short shrift to the system of preferential balloting that was touted then shelved by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Preferential balloting isn’t proportional representation,” said Weaver, with a nod to how the system can favour large parties over smaller ones no less than the status quo system of first-past-the-post.
Hollywood couldn't have scripted a more improbable backstory for a movie about a scrappy underdog. No party has stated a preference for which new voting system to chose. The issue will probably go to a refrendum. So the field's wide open. Go for it Psam!