First-Past-the-Post: Empowered Voters, Accountable Government

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First-Past-the-Post: Empowered Voters, Accountable Government

In its election platform, and again in its December 2015 Speech from the Throne, the federal Liberal government committed itself “to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” The implication is that our present way of voting, more technically and politely called single member plurality voting (SMPV) is deeply flawed. The government does not address what the flaws of first- past-the-post (FPTP) are and how another way of voting could overcome them.

There is to be a “national engagement process” to decide on electoral reforms, but the argument that FPTP is the best way of electing a Parliament has been pre-emptively excluded from the discussions. As FPTP is the best way of electing a Parliament, this is unfortunate.

For reformers it is obvious that FPTP is bad. But, if they are right, the result of practically every election in our history was wrong and most people don’t seem to care. Reformers are heartened by polls that show majority support for reform, but in referendums voters have repeatedly rejected specific reforms. Most people don’t seem to care about what, for reformers, must be the most important issue in politics. While reformers think the case for reform is obvious, some also think that the issue is too complicated to be addressed in a referendum. Of the people who tell pollsters that they favour reform, what they want from elections is what we get now and would not get from any reform.

Electoral reform can get very complicated. But the complications are the fault of the reformers, who do not understand the purpose of voting and who are trying to do the impossible.

Whatever the government may be thinking, once Pandora’s Box has been opened, there is no telling where the discussion will go. The NDP is one party that knows what it wants. Others will weigh in. All likely options must be considered—and rejected.

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