For Your Consideration - Thom Barker

For Your Consideration - Thom Barker

All in all, it’s not such a bad system

Thom reconsiders the advantages of first past the post

We now have two first-past-the-post (FPTP) federal elections under our collective belt since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s infamous, now twice-over broken promise to end that outdated and dubiously democratic system.

It’s tough enough not to be cynical about politics when so little changes from election to election — regardless of whether we get Conservatives or Liberals forming government — without the apparent hubris of politicians who feel like they can just get away with saying one thing and doing another.

We have come to expect that from federal Provincial politics, which has seen third parties (particularly the NDP) breakthrough, would seem to confirm that given power, politicians are more likely to try to hold on to it than dogmatically stick to their promises and principles.

I’ve often had mixed feelings about that particular aspect of politics. On the one hand, it appears to be the height of hubris to one day emphatically and sincerely — to give them the benefit of the doubt — say one thing and the next day reverse course.

On the other hand, it is an admirable quality, in people in general, to be able to change one’s mind based on better evidence and/or pragmatic considerations.

Canadians are for the most part pretty pragmatic people and we tend to be pretty centrist, which is why we have three centrist parties that generally tie up more than 80 per cent of the popular vote.

Most of us don’t want dramatic upheaval, we want incremental improvement. It says a lot about our country that we have it good enough

That is not to say there are not specific issues that require urgent action, but that is not what this column is about.

For most of my journalism career, I have been a staunch supporter of some form of proportional representation (PR).

Since it doesn’t look like that is going to happen any time soon, I decided to revisit the potential advantages of FPTP.

One of the things that has hampered the move to a more representative electoral system in Canada is complexity. Referendums in various jurisdictions, including B.C., have failed largely because it is difficult to come up with a model that doesn’t leave people scratching their heads.

FPTP benefits from being simple. One person, one vote. It keeps representation local, or at least regional.

Of course, the biggest beef with FPTP is that a party can cruise to a majority government with little more than a third of the popular vote.

While a one-party majority under such circumstances may seem ludicrous, proponents of FPTP point out it makes for more efficient government.

Detractors note that often minority or coalition Parliaments make better legislation because compromise is required.

I’m not sure anymore if it really matters. The major political parties are already coalitions of sorts. To have any chance of winning, a party has to be very broad-based.

Once in power, even a majority government has to moderate itself and is held in check by the kind of strong, coherent opposition the FPTP system also produces.

Furthermore, in Canada we have robust democratic institutions and principled legislation that provide the checks and balances that prevent a party in power from running amok.

While I am still inclined to favour some version of electoral reform, all in all, I don’t really have a huge problem with the system.