Let’s hope ‘first-past-the-post’ soon becomes history

It’s designed to allow a party with a minority of voter support across the country to form a majority government

Another federal election is fast approaching. As you decide who to vote for, you may well consider voting strategically; ie. if the candidate and/or party you support doesn’t have a chance of winning, you would choose another candidate and/or party that has a better chance of winning.

You would vote strategically because our current electoral system encourages it. The present system is called “first-past-the-post” and it’s designed to allow a party with a minority of voter support across the country to form a majority government.

That’s what happened in the 2011 election. The Harper Conservatives formed a majority government by winning 53 per cent of the seats in parliament (166 seats). They got to exercise 100 per cent of the power with only 39.6 per cent of the popular vote. As a result, 61 per cent of Canadian voters effectively had no representation in government.

“First-past-the-post” not only leads to strategic voting; it also causes low voter turnout. Many, especially young people, feel “What’s the point of voting?” So they don’t show up at the polls. I lived for over 20 years in Alberta, and that’s how I felt every election. The current system also gives a government – even though it garnered a minority of the popular vote – the power to push through controversial legislation like Bill C-51 and Harper’s omnibus bills that a majority of Canadians would not likely support.

It’s time for a change. An organization called Fair Vote Canada (www.fairvote.ca) is actively encouraging Canadians to do what many democracies, such as New Zealand and a number of European countries have done: adopt an electoral system based on Proportional Representation (PR). PR systems (and there are a few of them to choose from) operate on the principle that the number of seats a party gains in the legislature should closely match the percentage of voters who voted for it. For example, under a PR system, the results of the 2011 election would have had the Conservatives with 124 seats (rather than 166); the NDP with 94, the Liberals with 59, the Bloc with 19, and the Greens with 12 seats. Thus, PR tends to produce legislatures which better reflect the diversity of views in the Canadian population, including regional, ethnic and gender diversity.

PR would also necessitate parties to work together for common goals rather than operate in a totally adversarial way in the House of Commons, as they do at present. Those wretched “hate” ads might disappear as well.

Yes, under PR there will be minority governments, necessitating the forming of coalitions, but history has shown that great things have been achieved in minority situations, such as Universal Health Care, the Canada Pension Plan, the Family Allowance and the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms.

Fair Vote Canada’s goal is to get a majority of elected MPs to support a PR electoral system.

To that end, myself, Connie Burns and Corrine Corry, all residents in this North Island/Powell River Riding, set out to interview all four candidates in this riding and ask them to sign on in support of PR. The Conservative candidate refused to meet with us, simply directing us to their website. We met with the Liberal, NDP and Green candidates and each made a signed commitment in support of PR.

It is our hope, and Fair Vote Canada’s intention, that the 2015 election will be the last one to operate under a “first-past-the-post” system. If you share that hope, then let your vote count in October.

Murray Etty

Campbell River