There have been many valiant attempts to get rid of the at-large system over the years, all of which have failed. While courts have struck down at-large systems in the United States, no case against the at-large system has ever been brought forward in Canada. So we’re going to do it.
To this end, we have retained a prominent law firm to explore the constitutional case against the at-large system. Our initial work is focussed on the extent to which the following at-large electoral effects may be unconstitutional, including:
- Producing mostly white councils rather than reflecting Vancouver’s diversity;
- Imposing mile-long ballots which deprive voters of proper information;
- Advantaging wealthier, west-side voters over those in the rest of the city; and
- Disadvantaging candidates lacking deep pockets.
In addition, we are speaking with First Nations’ representatives and our lawyers about exploring how the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act impacts Indigenous representation on local municipal bodies, including municipal councils, and whether we should include this aspect of local governance in our case. There seems to be significant initial interest in this aspect of the work as, for example, where the provincially constituted Metro Vancouver Board includes representation from scəẃaθən məsteyəxʷ (Tsawwassen First Nation), no other First Nation about whose territories Metro makes decisions has formal representation. This seems wrong.
Also, where past opponents of the at-large system have always argued to replace the at-large system with a ward system, our approach is to argue the provincial government should replace at-large elections with any one of a series of better options including, for example, proportional representation. In the endThus, we will argue the choice for the court is not “at-large or wards”, but rather “at-large or any better system”.
Finally, as all British Columbia local governments are selected using at-large systems, we are building teams in Vancouver and other municipalities. We have some strong and early interest from Surrey-based activists and invite you to join, if you are interested in this issue.