BC Attorney General David Eby has recommended that a referendum on electoral reform be held by mail-in ballot in October and November of this year. We should remind ourselves why reform was promoted by multiple federal and provincial parties during the latest election campaigns. What’s wrong with first-past-the-post, the system we have now?
In a nutshell, FPTP doesn’t give electors fair representation. In the last 100 years of B.C. elections, nineteen out of twenty-seven of them have produced false majorities, meaning fewer than 50 per cent of electors have voted for a party that ends up winning more than 50 per cent of the seats, and 100 per cent of the power.
One example of this occurred in 1933 when the Liberals won only 42 per cent of the vote, but 72 per cent of the seats. The results were almost identical in 1972 when the NDP won 40 per cent of the vote, but 69 per cent of the seats. In both instances, about 60 per cent of electors were unable to send a representative to Victoria.
When votes fail to count toward the election of anyone, people feel disenfranchised – as disenfranchised as women were before they obtained the vote. Research shows that such feelings can result in voter apathy or outrage, low voter turnout, or attempts to vote strategically to try to circumvent a perceived worst-case scenario.
But the worst happens over and over with FPTP – our votes end up wasted. This has led to the upcoming referendum where we’ll be asked if we want to switch to proportional representation. We’ll also be asked to rank three possible PR systems in terms of preference.
There are specific rationales behind the Dual Member Proportional, Mixed Member Proportional, and Rural-Urban Proportional voting systems. Political parties in favour of PR and other advocates like Fair Vote Canada will teach us those rationales across the next five months and empower us to make an informed decision.
Opponents of PR will occupy a very different universe, spending their summers trying to convince electors that PR is overly complicated and unfair, and that the kind of governments produced by PR are messy and even dangerous.
What they’ll really mean is that they will miss having an undeserved majority of seats if they lose this battle for electoral change.
Let’s keep in mind that first-past-the-post voting originated in the 12th century when people believed the earth was flat. Over the centuries, we learned the earth was round. Most countries also learned there were better ways to vote. Today, more than 90 countries around the world use some form of PR when voters go to the polls.
There’s nothing obscure or risky about modernizing our electoral system to improve democracy.