B.C.’s proportional representation referendum: The case against switching to PR

B.C.’s proportional representation referendum: The case against switching to PR

Opponent says there’s more accountability with ‘first-past-the-post’

By Justin Dalton

First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) is a voting system where voters indicate on their ballot the candidate of their choice and the candidate with the most votes wins. If it seems simple, that’s because it is. FPTP is used by over one third of the countries in the world including Canada, the United States, India and the United Kingdom.

FPTP provides accountability and a geographical link between voters and their representative. Under FPTP, elected officials remain answerable to their constituents. In British Columbia, our electoral system has single member constituencies. Each riding has a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) which is directly accountable to the constituency that they represent as elections are held at the constituency level. In contrast, the PR system does not provide the same level of accountability. Depending on the type of PR, MLAs are no longer elected at the constituency level but are elected from party lists. The intention of PR is to ensure that the number of seats each party has is more proportionate to the overall votes they receive in an election. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of local representation at the constituency level.

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FPTP often results in stable majority governments which are preferable to the coalition governments which typically form under PR. Compromise and coalition building is a necessary part of both FPTP and PR. In a FPTP system, the coalition building and compromise takes place before the election. Parties present costed platform to voters resulting in greater transparency to voters. A majority government is typically formed following a FPTP election and that government can carry out its platform. Under PR, parties must negotiate with each other to form a government following the election. Often this results in smaller parties, many of whom are single issue or fringe parties, having disproportionate power in government. Additionally, the coalition governments that PR produces are often weak and unstable. Following the 2010 election in Belgium, negotiations went on for 541 before a government was formed which essentially left the country ungoverned for 18 months. In contrast, coalition governments are rare following a FPTP election and the majority governments that result are often moderate as large parties compete for the political center to capture the most votes.

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Most proponents of electoral reform focus on elections as means to choosing a government. What is often forgotten, and equally important, are elections as means of removing a government. FPTP enables voters to remove governments from power once they have reached their expiration date. Removing a government from power is much more difficult under a Proportional Representation system.

While the current FPTP is not perfect, its has served us well and provided British Columbia with political stability. Proponents of PR state that PR will make every vote count. In reality, PR will take power away from voters and give it to the political parties, it will damage the geographical link between voters and their representatives and it will provide disproportionate power to single issue and fringe parties.

Justin Dalton is a Kelowna lawyer.