A case for fairer elections
Beginning on Oct. 22, British Columbians will have the opportunity to change the way we vote in provincial elections.
Electoral reform was a top federal election promise for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, but shortly after they came to power, the Liberals said that electoral reform would not be in their mandate after all.
At the time, many Canadians were disappointed, and for good reason. A wide majority of the Canadian electorate voted for political parties who had made electoral reform a high priority. The Liberals, NDP, and Green Party all promised — and some continue to promise — electoral reform. Combining the popular vote of these three parties in the last federal election means 63 per cent of voters backed parties that incorporated electoral reform into their platforms.
And those numbers do not even reflect the opinions of the 30 per cent of eligible voters who didn’t vote at all in the federal election. One of the many reasons for voter apathy in Canada is that our current First-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system does not engender an active electorate. This is mainly because FPTP is designed to elect majority governments even when a party does not receive the majority of the popular vote. It means that the majority of any given constituency may not have voted for the politician who is ultimately elected to represent them, and this in turn means that the interests of the majority are not being accurately represented at the federal level.
The calculations for seat allocation with these proportional voting systems may be complex, but the results that are produced are more fair.
Currently, B.C. also operates on a FPTP voting system for provincial elections. FPTP is how the B.C. Liberals stayed in power for as long as they did (16 years) despite not having the majority of voter support. In every provincial election since 2005, the combined popular vote of the NDP and the B.C. Green Party has surpassed that of the B.C. Liberals, meaning these two parties had the majority of the electorate’s support. But because of the flawed system of FPTP where winner takes all, the majority of British Columbians’ voices have not been heard for a very long time.
Hypothetically, if you live in a constituency that strongly supports a political party that does not align with your values, and you understand how this flawed FPTP system works, you would have two options come election time: 1) vote strategically by voting for the party candidate that is most likely to beat out the candidate you don’t want, but who still doesn’t fully align with your values, or 2) don’t vote. You know your vote is probably not going to change anything anyways, so why bother?
Electoral reform can change this. Whether it’s Dual Member Proportional, Mixed Member Proportional, or—my personal favourite—Rural-Urban Proportional, any of these systems will provide a far more accurate ratio of popular vote to seats won.
The calculations for seat allocation with these proportional voting systems may be complex, but the results that are produced are more fair. And there’s nothing really complex about results where 39 per cent of the popular vote equates to 39 per cent of seats in the Legislative Assembly.
If the United States had a voting system based on proportional representation, then Donald Trump would not currently be President. Let’s all close our eyes together for a moment and imagine a world where Trump is not the President of one of the most powerful nations on earth. It’s nice, isn’t it?
Proportional representation means more minority governments, which means political parties will have to stop beating each other down and start working together and compromising in order to get things done in the legislature. It means more political parties will have the opportunity to represent a larger array of viewpoints. It means the tone and discourse in politics will be more cooperative, and in our current global political climate that seems rife with divide, we need this kind of cooperation more than ever.
For a simple, tangible example of the potential benefits of proportional representation, consider this: if the United States had a voting system based on proportional representation (and did away with the electoral college and excessive gerrymandering among other things), then Donald Trump would not currently be President. Let’s all close our eyes together for a moment and imagine a world where Trump is not the President of one of the most powerful nations on earth. It’s nice, isn’t it?
B.C. has the opportunity to be a trailblazer in the creation of a more fair and democratic system in Canada. If we implement proportional representation at the provincial level, other provinces may follow our lead, and over time, the federal government just might follow suit as well (though I’m skeptical of this ever happening under Trudeau).
In 16 out of 17 categories of the Corruption Perceptions Index, countries with proportional representation-based voting systems outperformed countries with majoritarian systems.
But hey, don’t listen to me. Listen to Arend Lijphart, a world-renowned political scientist who has spent his entire career studying voting systems in countries around the world. His research found that in 16 out of 17 categories of the Corruption Perceptions Index, countries with proportional representation-based voting systems outperformed countries with majoritarian systems like FPTP. Such categories include government effectiveness, rule of law, and level and control of corruption.
Examples of developed countries that use proportional representation include Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden. What do those countries have in common? Typically they’re progressive, have good health care, have excellent renewable energy initiatives, and report higher levels of individual happiness overall. They’re not perfect, and we cannot attribute their voting system as the cause of their overall success, but we can look to Lijphart’s research and correlate a lack of corruption with these attributes. We can correlate overall government effectiveness with these attributes. We can correlate rule of law with these attributes.
It’s a shame that proportional representation has become such a polemic issue, because at the end of the day, it shouldn’t really be one. It should be a human rights issue. Proportional representation means a larger number of voices are heard and represented, and that’s to the benefit of everyone, not just one faction of citizens.
You can find a breakdown of the different electoral systems here.
And, for the most accessible overview of different proportional systems and our current FPTP system, check out CGP Grey’s YouTube channel.
FPTP voting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7tWHJfhiyo
Mixed Member proportional: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT0I-sdoSXU
Single Transferable Vote (part of the rural urban proportional option): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8XOZJkozfI