Progressive politics, ideas & culture


First past the post: Worst system except for the rest?

This Magazine Staff

Canadian electoral-reform weenies are all excited, now that BC’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform has reported back. The Assembly has recommended a single-transferable vote system, which is far too complicated to describe here.
But among its supposed advantages: It gives minorities more representation in the legislature and weakens the hold of the party over the member. At the same time, it should avoid the “regional ghettoes” we get, especially at the federal level, because of the structure of the FPP system.
I actually think that, apart from avoiding regional ghettoes, the supposed advantages are actually defects.

Most people assume that we can simply transfer the party status quo to a new electoral system, which would indeed give a nice result. But it doesn’t work this way. When you move to a more proportional system, you inevitably get a fracturing of the political landscape. Say hello to every wacko political viewpoint the BC wilds have managed to hothouse over the years.
Second, people seem wedded to this Burkean myth of the ‘independent’ representative. There’s no such thing. Every MP is subject to the discipline of some controlling interest. If it isn’t the party leaders telling you how to vote, it’ll be the far more vocal — and likely intransigent — grassroots hardliners in your own riding. Look at the Reform/Alliance for an example — does anyone think those MPs are any more “independent” than the Liberal MPs? They are actually less free, since the grassroots of every party are notoriously less willing to engage in the political compromises that government requires.
The upshot of all of this will be, most likely, the demise of responsible government. Our parliamentary system is not designed to work with coalition governments. In the face of endless, ineffective, short-term parliaments, the consequences will quite likely be that citizens will end up demanding the right to elect the executive directly.
Is this something we want? Well, it’s a good thing we have the provinces to experiment with these sorts of things. Good luck to BC. I suspect they’ll need it.

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