Cam Fortems – Kamloops This Week
More than a decade ago, Katie Cavaletto and four other Kamloops residents spent a year travelling back and forth to Vancouver every two weeks to hear political scientists lead them through a course on democracy.
Selected through a lottery system, Cavaletto and 152 other British Columbians from every walk of life — named the Citizens’ Assembly for Political Reform by then-premier Gordon Campbell — pondered the best way to elect our politicians.
This followed a provincial election with a wildly skewed result that saw the NDP with just two MLAs and the Liberals with 77, despite the fact New Democrats picked up 22 per cent of the popular vote.
“We took the time to review every single system you could think of,” said Cavaletto, who in 2002 was a fresh graduate of University College of the Cariboo.
At the end of it, Cavaletto was one of 146 people (just six preferred other methods) who voted in favour of recommending the single transferable vote (STV), a proportional system intended to ensure the popular vote is better translated into seats in the legislature.
“I think it’s certainly better than what we have and represents more of what people want,” said Cavaletto, now a mother who operates a family day care.
Twelve years later, the newly elected federal Liberal government wants Canadians to look at reforming the way we elect MPs. The party pledged before the October election last year it would be the last time Canadians voted under the traditional first-past-the-post system that brought them to power.
Murray Todd, a former Liberal candidate, is heading a small group of people that includes a Green representative and a New Democrat, who want city residents to learn more about alternative voting systems that could be used in 2019.
It is holding a town hall meeting on Monday, Sept. 12, at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Church at Nicola Street and Fourth Avenue downtown.
There, the group will present the electoral systems and survey those present on whether they prefer to keep the current first-past-the-post system or switch to STV or another method of voting.
While the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly was non-partisan, the potential change for 2019 is already running into conflicts.
The local group, which dubs itself Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Election Reform Committee, doesn’t include participation from local Conservative MP Cathy McLeod.
“She said she wouldn’t do town halls, but would do roundtables,” said Todd of ways to respond to a parliamentary committee’s suggestions for input from Canadians.
“I didn’t think that would reach very many people.”
There are no identified Conservatives on the committee.
“Conservatives — they’re just opposed,” Todd said.
McLeod acknowledged her roundtable discussions in rural parts of the riding have been lightly attended. The largest was in 100 Mile House, where 20 people showed up. She said she doesn’t oppose electoral change, but believes Canadians need to first vote in a referendum.
“This is an issue, frankly, I think should go to the people,” McLeod said.
But critics note a referendum on electoral change in Canada has never been successful.
“I don’t know if it requires a referendum,” Thompson Rivers University political scientist Derek Cook said. “It’s a good idea if we have enough time. That would mean an objective discussion of the consequences.”
Two subsequent referenda after the Citizens’ Assembly both failed.
But McLeod said the Campbell government set the threshold — 60 per cent popular vote and majority in 60 per cent of the ridings — too high.
McLeod said she would be satisfied if 50 per cent of voters cast a ballot for change.
But what would be the question?
Cook believes it could be as simple as asking if Canadians want to change from first-past-the-post. If a majority is in favour, a select group of parliamentarians or others would be tasked with coming up with the best alternative.
Cavaletto is skeptical. She believes vested interests within Canada’s political parties will resist change that would force them to alter the way they do business.
“I don’t think it will ever change,” she said.
“With the parties, I don’t think they’ll let it happen.”