In our recent messages, we’ve shared with you much of the evidence Prof. Lawrence LeDuc presents about the negative effects of our First Past the Post voting system. In the final section of his affidavit, Prof. LeDuc summarizes Canada’s previous experiences with proportional voting and explains why, if it worked better than FPTP, we didn’t keep it and haven’t switched even more decisively to using it in all Canadian elections.
Canada’s Previous Experience With Proportional Voting
While it may be surprising to some, since all provincial and federal elections now use FPTP, Prof. LeDuc notes that “Canada has not always exclusively used FPTP in single member districts in the past. We have had multimember ridings at both the federal and provincial levels, and Alberta and Manitoba used STV [the Single Transferable Vote] in provincial elections in big cities between 1920 and 1955.”
Why We Haven’t Adopted Proportional Voting
But if proportional voting was used, why haven’t we stuck with it and even expanded its use? Prof. LeDuc points out that “in 1921, the first federal election widely contested by three political parties,” “an active debate at the federal level about FPTP began that year, and the issue has been debated more or less continually since that time.” Indeed, a Special Committee on Proportional Representation and the Subject of the Single Transferable or Preferential Vote was convened that year, though the politicians of the day declined to follow through on its recommendation that a public plebiscite be held.
Natural Conflict of Interest
LeDuc comments that “given the natural conflict of interest of governments with respect to reforming the very electoral system that elected them, partisanship and entrenched interests have combined to keep FPTP in place,” and indeed to repeal proportional voting where it was used. He goes on to review a number of other electoral reform initiatives at both the federal and provincial levels, noting that “because the electoral system sits at the root of partisan self interest, proposals for change were always linked in one way or another to partisan politics.”
LeDuc also demonstrates politicians’ inconsistency by noting that “opposition parties often express support for reforms while they are in opposition, then lose interest in the same ideas when they are in government,” and citing Mackenzie King’s about-face in the 1920s as the first significant example.
He calls further attention to politicians’ self-interest when he says that “Governments typically see proposals for institutional change either as threats to their position or as opportunities to advance a partisan agenda. In the former case, proposals that are put forward by organizations or groups outside of government are easily ignored or sidelined.” And “when governments do decide to act on a reform proposal, they often do so from a perspective of gaining a political advantage over their opponents,” and not because of any principled commitment to the best interests of voters.
We feel that this evidence of strong self-interest and partisan self-dealing on the part of politicians will help us convince the courts that they shouldn’t automatically defer to governments on this issue and should provide appropriate direction to them.
Thank you for your continued support. More on the other affidavits coming soon!
Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC
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