Not all votes carry the same clout in B.C.

The number of registered voters didn't get much attention during the campaign. In April, there were 3,156,991. Notable because it's 19,464 voters less than there were in 2013.

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Dermod Travis is the Executive Director of IntegrityBC. Photo: Darshan Photography

Elections have two key components: the race and the mechanics – the legislative process and administration of the vote.

The race gets the media coverage, not so much the mechanics, even though it can have far more impact on the results than many might imagine.

The number of registered voters didn’t get much attention during the campaign. In April, there were 3,156,991. Notable because it’s 19,464 voters less than there were in 2013.

In a province like B.C. that shouldn’t happen.

It’s not the result of how the voters list was built, more how it’s been managed.

Using data provided by Elections Canada, roughly 40,000 voters were purged from the list in 2016,according to Elections B.C.

“In December 2016, we processed a file of records of voters whose address on the (national list) changed from within B.C. to outside B.C.

We removed approximately 40,000 voters. We believe this process, which was not performed in the lead-up to the 2013 general election, improved the overall accuracy of the voters list.”

No kidding on the accuracy part, but that also says something about the earlier lists.

Something else of note about the race was how remarkably efficient the B.C. Liberal party’s vote was.

The party only needed 170,234 votes – 21 per cent of their 796,672 total – to lock up 20 ridings, nearly half of their seats.

The Liberals put 10 into their column with 69,857 votes. Seven are among B.C.’s 17 “protected” ridings that account for nearly one out of every five seats in the legislature.

Here’s where it gets messy.

The right to vote is set out in Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a Legislative Assembly…”

Something else was set out, albeit by the courts.

The right to vote “is not equality of voting power per se, but the right to ‘effective representation.’”

Effective representation is “relative parity,” while accounting for special circumstances, “such as geography, community history, community interests and minority representation.”

After every other election, B.C.’s electoral boundaries commission goes into action to ensure the electoral map meets those two tests.

According to its 2007 report, “B.C. is among the group of jurisdictions that gives their commissions the greatest latitude, adopting a plus or minus 25 percent deviation limit.”

In 2014, the commission was given its marching orders by the B.C. government: two new seats could be added to the existing 85, but 17 hand-picked ridings had to be protected.

At the end of the day, the 17 first-class ridings had an average of 25,382 voters and the 70 second-class an average of 38,935.

Quite a range among the full 87, though.

Stitkine has the lowest number of voters at 13,240 and Vernon-Monashee the highest with 47,373.

Vernon-Monashee would need three MLAs to come close to matching the weight of Stitkine’s clout in the legislature.

Using the April voters list, the 25 per cent rule would see Nelson-Creston with 27,338 registered voters on one end, Parksville-Qualicum (44,743) on the other and 68 in between.

Seventeen ridings overshoot the 25 per cent deviation, but only 10 are among the 17 “protected” ridings.

Since land mass is part of the special circumstances test, let’s see how much it mattered in the government’s selection?

The 17 first-class ridings range from 2,437 to 196,446 square kilometers, but nine other ridings are within that range. Can’t be size.

Perhaps it’s the number of voters? The 17 range from 13,240 to 42,054 voters, but 54 ridings fit within that spread. Can’t be voters.

Maybe it’s a form of gerrymandering? How did the 17 ridings vote?

Thirteen went for the Liberals – representing 30 per cent of their total seats – and four went to the NDP.

Might be something to that gerrymandering idea.

Under the Liberals, the number of protected ridings has nearly tripled from six in 2001 to 17 today.

That’s more ridings than Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta protect combined.

And before B.C. votes again, the government must refer these boundaries to the B.C. Court of Appeal to determine whether they comply with Section 3 of the Charter of Rights.

Dermod Travis
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC, a non-profit group that aims to restore bonds between citizens and their elected officials. He has been the executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee from 2007 to 2011, and is the founder of PIRA Communications. He is a former member of Quebec’s Estates General on the Situation and the Future of the French Language and its Comité d’examen sur la langue d’enseignement.