“Medieval” is a word I’d never heard used to describe the first-past-the-post electoral system we seem to cling to in Canada.
I had to laugh when I heard Owen Madden use it when describing to me his sharing of preliminary election results from Saturday, Oct. 24, with his family in Ireland.
“They said to me, ‘so which ranking of the BC Greens were you on the ballot?’ And I said, Oh no, no, no, it doesn’t work that way here,” said the Shuswap Green Party candidate on the Monday following the B.C. election.
“There’s only one horse for each political party in the race, and there’s only one that gets the benefit from the votes in favour of them and that’s the winner. And it feels like you’re talking about something from the Dark Ages.”
There was no detectable bitterness to Madden’s words regarding how he fared, though there was some frustration with our electoral system and having to explain the outcome to his parents who are accustomed to a system that favours proportional representation – not one where, in the end, the only votes that count are those that backed the winning candidate.
In Ireland, residents choose their political leaders through a system called Proportional Representation with a Single Transferable Vote. The system is designed to assure the choices of as many voters as possible are factored into the final election results. According to spunout.ie, an information website for Irish youth, each local area in Ireland is represented by multiple elected politicians, so even if you’re not the most popular candidate in your area, you can still win a seat if you can get enough support.
As you may recall, B.C. had not one, but two referendums on adopting a similar system – the BC-STV (single transferable vote). The first one, in 2005, saw 57 per cent of the population vote in favour. A landslide win compared to typical first-past-the-post outcomes, but the BC Liberal government of the day set the bar at 60 per cent, and it had to pass in 51 ridings. Furthermore, the results were not binding. So basically, it wound up being a feel-good exercise on electoral reform that posed little threat to the status quo.
The bar was again set at 60 per cent for the second referendum in 2009, but votes in favour were far less at 39 per cent. (The BC Liberal Party held onto power that year with 45.8 per cent of the vote. Voter turnout was 50.9 per cent)
While campaigning to succeed Stephen Harper as prime minister, federal Liberal Justin Trudeau spoke favourably of reforming Canada’s electoral system.
“We can have an electoral system that does a better job of reflecting the concerns, the voices of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and give us a better level of governance,” said Trudeau who, after winning the election, chose to remain with the status quo.
Perhaps that’s just how some politicians think: if medieval is working for you, why bother making more votes count?