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October 28, 2017 3:42 am

Put first-past-the-post out to pasture

Thursday, June 25, 2015 @ 3:45 AM

By Bill Phillips


Our first-past-the-post electoral system is like the weather … everyone complains about it, but no one does anything about it.

The prime reason for that is if you happen to get elected using the first-past-the-post system then it obviously works, for you and/or your party. There have been plenty of politicians, the current crop in Ottawa included, who have talked a lot about electoral reform but, sadly, when they get elected there are always more pressing issues to deal with.

In fairness, Conservative MP Michael Chong has had a private members bill on electoral reform pass through the House of Commons and the Senate, although for a while it looked like the Senate was going to punt the bill. Chong’s bill focuses on shifting some power away from party leaders and onto MPs. Good stuff, but it doesn’t deal with the first-past-the-post system.

The main criticism of the first-past-the-post system is that it puts the threshold for election at about 40 per cent of the popular vote, not the 50-per-cent-plus-one that we all like to talk about when we talk about democracy. The threshold can even dip as low as 38 per cent, depending on how the other parties do, how many there are, how the vote splits, etc.

It also gives a majority government carte blanche to rule with impunity. The old saying is that we elect dictatorships every four years or so. Our system just allows us to toss out the dictator if we don’t like him. It’s also why politicians don’t like minority governments … it’s much easier to rule when you’re a dictator than when you’re a prime minister and actually have to try and balance the diverse needs of a vast country.

So here we are on the eve of another federal election and the opposition parties are promising electoral reform.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau launched his plans for reform last week, along with an online petition calling for an end to the first-past-the-post system. Trudeau said he would strike a committee to look at the reforms. His preference, which he outlined when he visited Prince George a couple of years ago, is a preferential balloting system.

This is where you mark your candidate in order of preference. If no candidate wins a clear majority on the first count, then the candidate with the least amount of votes is dropped off the ballot and their second choice ballots are counted. This goes until a candidate has the actual 50-per-cent-plus-one per cent of the vote and is declared the winner. One of the advantages of this system is that voting becomes strategic (however it should be noted that in Cariboo-Prince George and Prince George-Peace River it would have been a non-starter the first time around as both Bob Zimmer and Dick Harris were elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote). You can vote your conscience, but then cast a vote for who you might think would make a good MP or vote to try and keep someone else out.

The downside is that it doesn’t eliminate the elected dictatorship system and, to me, that is more troublesome than the first-past-the-post system.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has also rolled out an electoral reform package, promising that if the NDP win 2015 will be the last election using the first-past-the-post system. He pledges to bring in a proportional representation style system called mixed member proportional. Under this system voters check two ballots, one for a candidate and the other for a party. The candidate would be elected by the first-past-the-post system. The make-up of the House of Commons, however, reflects the party vote and additional MPs are appointed from party lists that represent larger areas (probably a few for each province).

The upside to this system is that is truly does give a House of Commons that is more representative of the electorate’s choices. The downside is that you end up with MPs whom voters haven’t specifically voted for … they are there solely because of their party affiliation. Some models of mixed-member proportional representation do call for the party representatives to be voted on, which would be an improvement.

So what should we make of all this? I’m still waiting for a politician to actually do something about the weather.

Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at billphillips1@mac.com



let us just hope we don’t end up with another majority government…
I think if we do, we will be be exactly where we are now except with new names doing the deeds, with impunity.

minority governments take long to get stuff done, but hey they are paid for 12 months year…work on it… get over it people you work 11 and off 1 not the other way around…

Is there any evidence, anywhere, that the people of those countries that have replaced their ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system with some form of ‘proportional representation’ set up are any more satisfied with the government they’ve elected that way than we are? I have never seen any.

The problem ISN’T with the system used to elect a government. It’s that ‘political democracy’ exercised through any kind of electoral system is essentially a chimera unless it’s accompanied by ‘economic democracy’ for each and every one of us as individuals.

Indeed, democracy itself, being defined as the rule of the majority, would be the ultimate tyranny. Properly, democracy is the ability of each individual to make his or her own policy effective unto themselves. Anything that extends that ability without trammeling on the rights of others to do the same should be the desired objective of us all.

We’re simply not going to get that by messing with the present electoral system, however superficially attractive it may be made out to be.

Proportional Representation. Basically means more people involved in Government and a less effective Government.

Its the various levels of Government and the Civil service of to-day that is killing this Country. We no longer have effective leaders, or any positive direction for the Country.

Yes, a party that gets 39% of the popular vote gets elected, and gets to dictate to the rest of the 61% of the voter population how this country should be run, does not seem very democratic for the MAJORIY of Canadians.

Who was the genius that brought up population satisfaction worldwide about other forms of electoral systems? Take a good long look at the above numbers… obviously 61% of Canada’s voter population is not happy with the current; first past the post system! Time for a change!

Vote for Del Mastro !

I support the preferential ballot because the MP will be elected, elected with a majority vote, and will be accountable to a riding and not insider party hacks. All very important in a country the size of Cananda.

The preferential ballot brought BC the WAC Bennet socred government in BC, which built this province with BC Hydro, BC Rail, and the paved highway system among others and was the best government for free enterprise and the middle class that BC as ever had.

WAC brought in Preferential Ballot???? I have voted provincially since 1959 – only a few years into WAC’s reign; always only one vote: ‘first-past-the-post’. Show me that I am wrong!
It seems that after each election either one or all losing parties will propose going to preferential ballots. So have said Alberta NDP’rs in the past – that idea is probably now also far back on the back burner ‘without fire and heat’.
Preferential ballots will most probably result in very few majority governments. This will also result in government by civil servants – is that the best?

Preferential Ballots are being pushed by those who feel their party will never get elected, but still want some skin in the game. And so it goes.

I sincerely doubt that you will ever have a reformer, or conservative whining for PB.

Perhaps those who want to push Preferential Balloting might want to spend some time wondering why 9,251,160 registered voters in the last election did not vote.

Bring in PB and I predict the number will exceed 10 Million or more.

There is only one loser in PBalloting and that is the tax payer.

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