Americans look upon their government to ensure them life, liberty and the chance to pursue happiness. In Canada, peace, order and good government are what we expect from our leaders. For the last 150 years that is what we have received.
Canada is one of the best countries in the world to live because we have peace, order and good government and, with it, freedoms that so many in the world can only dream about.
Our freedom is based on democracy, rule of, by and for the people. Since people don’t always agree, the wishes of the largest groups of people prevail. The electoral system that has until now always chosen those who will govern us is first past the post (FPTP). The candidate with the most votes wins. The party with the most elected candidates forms the government. Most people see this as a fair way to form a government.
This fall, British Columbians will for the third time be asked to participate in a referendum that could drastically change our electoral system.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So why do some people think our system is broken? The usual argument is that under FPTP, minority voices aren’t heard and their needs and wishes are ignored.
This isn’t so.
First, in our free and open legislatures, opposition members have a right and duty to express their views.
Second, majority parties wishing to be elected have adopted policies from minority parties when most Canadians supported them. Think medicare. If majority parties get too arrogant, we can and do throw them out at the next election.
Third, such eminent world leaders as the Dalai Lama and the Aga Khan hold up Canada as a model to the world for the way we make room for minority people and views. If we’re not perfect, we’re still way better than most.
A more cynical reason for the upcoming referendum is that the parties making up the coalition government in B.C. fear that a majority of British Columbians might not prefer them in future elections.
Not only will British Columbians have an opportunity to overthrow FPTP. They will have an embarrassment of alternate choices – none of them good.
The first option – single transferable vote (STV) – has been used elsewhere but has been twice turned down in referenda in B.C. Is our government a slow learner?
I’m not even going to attempt to explain the remaining two options because I haven’t seen nor could I find a clear, understandable description of them. Also, neither of these systems has ever been put into use. Even the government offering us these options hasn’t fully described and defined them. Talk about buying a pig in a poke.
We have a recent example of how such undescribed and seemingly indescribable systems work. In Ontario, Doug Ford was selected as leader of his party with a minority of individual votes and a minority of polls supporting him using an electoral system that no one has explained. Now he’s premier and will govern without the endorsement of most of the members of his own party.
We’re advised that the details of whatever system we choose will be decided later by an all-party committee of the house to take into account all interests. However, the same government that wants to deny us majority rule, will, no doubt, take advantage of its control of the house to ensure the committee will create a structure that will best serve those parties.
One need not dig too deep into to find examples of proportional representation generating the exact opposite to the peace, order and good government we enjoy. Italy is only the most recent example. Proportional representation, even in mixed systems, makes it difficult if not impossible to get a clear majority government. Coalitions must be formed. This takes time and often leads to some very strange bedfellows.
In coalitions, minorities are not only heard, they often rule. To keep the coalition together and stay in power, the larger parties often have to accede to the wishes of the smallest party in the coalition, representing the smallest number of voters, and then apply the results to all the voters, most of whom don’t want it. This is a fine example of the tail wagging the dog. And it’s the opposite of good governance.
Peace and order are also reduced under proportional representation and the coalition governments that result from lack of a clear majority. Governments become less stable and less functional. The threat of a dissenting vote and resulting defeat of the house, leading to a new election, makes it very difficult for a government to deal with serious issues or stay in power very long.
Fortunately, British Columbia still has a choice. In the referendum this fall, let’s hope voters give a clear majority to majority government and stick with first past the post.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.
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