Groundhog Day: How first-past-the-post voting divides us
Sam Routley’s recent article falls far short of a balanced effort to consider ways that Canada might preserve local representation while also increasing the fairness and accuracy of that representation. Routley relies on dubious, cherry-picked examples such as Israel’s nationwide closed-list PR system that are clearly irrelevant in the Canadian context.
Canada’s first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system is a relic that exaggerates changes in regional, class, or partisan preferences. The most obvious recent example of FPTP’s distortions was the annihilation of the Progressive Conservatives in 1993 with the elevation of the Bloc Quebecois to the status of the Official Opposition.
That federal election was one of the events that provoked the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty. I remember well watching the referendum results on TV together with some fellow U. of T. grad students, including our collective horror at Jacques Parizeau’s infamous and divisive concession speech, in which Parizeau blamed the defeat on <<l’argent et le vote ethnique>>.
Today, divisive tactics remain prevalent wherever politicians engage in wedge politics to engineer a win in a FPTP election. The “Leave” campaign during Britain’s Brexit referendum and the ongoing Trump campaign for POTUS have both been included appalling instances of bigotry and inflammatory remarks.
Even when such obviously divisive campaigns are not prevalent, each FPTP election undermines fundamental Canadian values of inclusion and fairness. Each FPTP election grants zero representation to every elector who did not happen to vote for the first place candidate. FPTP may be simple, but it is profoundly and intrinsically weak at fairly representing the diversity of our country.
The question that ought be considered is “What electoral system will best serve Canadians?” We may look to proportional systems already in use in many advanced democracies. Indeed, Canada has a golden opportunity to adopt an improved voting system specifically designed to serve our diverse communities: urban, rural or remote.
When Canada moves to renew the electoral system, consultations will most likely be ongoing. Typically, reviews are held together with future elections when major reforms to the voting system are implemented. With an election or two under the new electoral system, Canadians will be able to clearly evaluate their level of satisfaction with the process. If Canadians truly want FPTP back, they shall have their wish. I believe that it shall not be missed.