It was almost three years ago that I started writing The Democracy Papers. They outlined, in a series of articles, why I believe Canadians prefer their first-past-the-post voting system over a proportional voting system. Events proved that Ontario voters agreed. They rejected changing to a form of Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) voting by about two to one in the October 2007 provincial election and referendum.
British Columbia voters have also rejected a more convoluted form of proportional voting known as Single Transferable Vote (STV). They not only rejected it in a 2005 referendum but they got another chance to reject it in 2009. The government spent more on explaining STV to B.C. voters this time and more of them voted against it.
And yet people are still campaigning for some form of proportional voting. Before the B.C. vote newspaper readers saw remarks by Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party. It seems that the gleam in her eye is still to convince Canadians to switch to some form of proportional representation. She recognized that the best hope for some seats for her party would be for federal and provincial governments to have some form of proportional representation. Her party is doomed to be an also ran in the foreseeable future without that type of change.
Ms. May had high hopes for British Columbia in its second referendum. And you can see why when reading B.C. newspaper articles and editorials, blogs and pro-change websites before the vote. The B.C.-STV advocates sank to new and surprisingly low levels of demagoguery in support of their cause. While STV is slightly less objectionable than the MMP that was proposed in Ontario, it is a foot in the door for proportional representation and needed to be addressed as such.
The demagogues of B.C.-STV wrote that it would give the voters greater stability in the governments. That is a surprising claim. Proportional representation rarely produces majority governments in what are considered literate societies. Take a look at the Israeli Knesset, for example, and figure out what stability that country enjoys in its government.
In their double-speak, the pro-proportional voting people get confused. They tell you that you get more effective representation with larger ridings and more competitive local contests. Then they tell us that the legislature will be more responsive. They say that larger parties will have more diverse candidates and that smaller parties will win some seats and provide some new ideas. You should ask these people if they have that promise in writing from all the parties.
Their most unusual claim is that proportional voting makes political parties more accountable. They throw some odd mathematics at you about 40 per cent of the vote and 60 per cent of the seats and 100 per cent of the power. It boils down to a much simpler equation: If party A is in power, it wants to stay there by paying attention to what people want. If party B, or C, or D are not in power, they pay even closer attention to what people want because they want to win next time. To say that our present system is perfect is a bit foolish. To say it is not accountable is to say something more foolish.
There are fewer Canadians today who remember the Bennett’s, pere et fils, who often gave a chuckle to political observers in other parts of the country when serving B.C. as Social Credit premiers. Eventually the province will live down the stigma. Luckily the voters did not refresh the idea of B.C.’s wacky politics by changing the way they elect their provincial politicians to a method nobody really understands.
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