Wards or not, Vancouver’s electoral system needs reforming

On Monday afternoon, the new mayor and council will be inaugurated and attention will be turn to how well they are going to govern over the next four years.

I am optimistic. In my last column I suggested a good start would be for the mayor to appoint Green and NPA councillors to the Metro Vancouver Board and Council committees.This in fact did happen.

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For many, attention will also focus on provincial electoral reform. However, if you are like me, the ballot is on the kitchen counter and you’re not really satisfied with the options being offered.

I personally would favour a modified electoral system that results in a closer correlation between the percentage vote received by a party and the number of seats elected.

However, I am not satisfied with any of the three options being offered. I am also uncomfortable with the absence of a minimum voter turnout threshold and the need for only a 50-per-cent-plus-one margin for such a major decision.

My expectation is the vote will fail. So let’s review electoral reform, but at the municipal level.

In his final column after 19 years writing for the Courier, my colleague Allen Garr reported that Kennedy Stewart has long favoured a ward system, rather than the current at-large system. I too would like to see a ward system implemented before the next election since the current system is flawed.

However, if wards are not brought in, other reforms should be, both to encourage increased voter turnout and the election of politicians more representative of the city’s diversity.

To those who struggled with this year’s ballot, I would like to offer an apology.

As regular readers of this column may recall, I have long opposed the listing of candidates alphabetically on a long ballot since I believe this offers an advantage to candidates whose names begin with A, B and C.

Outgoing councillor Andrea Reimer also championed this issue, and the city agreed to randomize names on this year’s ballots. While I proposed that ballots be designed so that every candidate had his or her name on top an equal number of times, Reimer advised this was not permitted by the Vancouver Charter.

Unfortunately, not only were this year’s ballots randomized, but there were 158 candidates for mayor, council, school and park board, and no numbers beside the names.

While many candidates were affiliated with 10 different parties, many excellent candidates ran as independents. However, no independents, except for mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart, were elected.

There are approximately 453,000 eligible Vancouver voters. Sadly, this year’s turnout was only 39 per cent, which was less than in 2011 and 2014. While the winning council candidates received at least 43,000 votes, 26 council candidates received fewer than 10,000 votes.

This has prompted me and others to suggest we need a better system of “pre-qualifying” candidates. Currently, candidates running for office in Vancouver are only required to present the signatures of 25 nominators and pay a $100 deposit that is refunded after the election.

Pollster Mario Conseco recently asked Vancouver voters whether they would prefer an increase in the required number of signatures or deposit, and a ward system.

Three in four agreed the number of signatures required for a nomination should be raised to 100 from 25. Just over half would like to see the deposit raised to $500 in future elections, noting that these changes could cause some prospective candidates who throw their hat into the ring “for the fun of it” to think twice about their actions.

As for wards, I was disappointed to see that only a small majority of Vancouver voters (52 per cent) supported the idea, even though this would likely increase diversity and the chances of good, independent candidates being successful.

The incoming city council has four years to decide whether to institute a ward system in Vancouver. If Vancouver doesn’t bring in wards, I hope we do reform our municipal electoral system to give good candidates a better chance of winning.

Regardless, I hope former Vision councillor Heather Deal will run again. She didn’t deserve to lose this year, and I blame the ballot design in large part for her loss.

In the meanwhile, Allen Garr, get working on that book.

@michaelgeller

geller@sfu.ca

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