EDITORIAL – Let’s meet the folks who support First Past the Post
An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
ONE OF THE STRANGEST arguments in favour of Proportional Representation is that the wrong people support First Past the Post.
“Want a good reason to support Pro Rep? Look at who’s telling you not to,” reads a headline on a recent guest column by Fair Vote Kamloops spokesperson Gisela Ruckert on the CFJC Today website.
Prop Rep supporters are “ordinary citizens,” she wrote. Meaning, I think, that FPTP supporters aren’t. Fair Vote Kamloops also likes to say FPTP gets higher donations per supporter than Prop Rep does. “Big money.”
A graphic published on the Fair Vote Kamloops website asks the question, “Who supports first-past-the-post?” and answers “Big party political strategists” and “lobbyists.”
Anybody who supports First Past the Post and opposes Prop Rep is accused of reciting “Liberal talking points.”
Well, let’s meet a few of the actual folks who support First Past the Post.
For starters, there are three former NDP premiers — you know, that’s the party in government that really, really wants Proportional Representation to win the referendum.
Dave Barrett is no longer with us, sadly, but he voted “No” to prop rep in the 2005 referendum.
Glen Clark has voted “No” in this referendum. Ujjal Dosanjh has stated, “We could be making fundamental changes without any voter turnout threshold. Changing Canada’s constitution requires two-thirds of the provinces in favour with at least 50 per cent of the population — why are we considering changing our electoral system indefinitely with far less support than that?”
Maybe those three premiers mistakenly picked up the book of Liberal talking points instead of the NDP policy manual?
But let’s leave politics out of it for a moment. Two of the province’s largest and most influential news media have some interesting things to say about this referendum.
The Vancouver Sun, in an editorial headlined, “Vote ‘No’ in NDP’s badly flawed electoral reform referendum,” wrote, “The ruling politicians, those with the greatest vested interest in the outcome, are telling British Columbians to trust them to work out dozens of details, including what kinds of MLAs will sit in the legislature and the size and shape of the ridings.”
The Sun editorial notes the low threshold required for Prop Rep to succeed, and concludes, “All this is unacceptable. British Columbians should vote ‘no’.”
The Victoria Times-Colonist is even stronger in its rejection of prop rep.
“The problem is that PR leads to endless and ever-changing coalitions,” the newspaper stated in a Nov. 16 editorial, this one headlined “B.C. voters should reject proportional representation.”
“Under PR, policy is hammered out after the election is over, not before it. Backroom deals and bargaining sessions determine the path forward, in some cases dictated by fringe parties who would never be elected to govern. This is not democracy.”
The editorial points out there are at least two dozen unanswered questions about how any new system would work, and the referendum includes no provision for protecting the interests of lightly populated regions.
For good measure, how about these comments from Brenda Makeechak, a former staff rep for the Canadian Labour Congress Pacific Region, and David Tones, past secretary-treasurer of the IWA Canada and a former assistant to the District 3 director of the United Steelworkers union.
In an op-ed piece in the Sun, Makeechak and Tones say Prop Rep “will guarantee that we have perpetual instability,” and “We want the party (NDP) to establish a platform for the voters before the election, not a mandate after the election with coalition partners….
“With Proportional Representation voters have reduced influence in political outcomes. To stay in power the parties have to give in to the special interests of the other minority parties.”
Are all these sources simply reciting “Liberal talking points”?
The manner in which the Prop Rep lobby reacts to them will tell a great deal about whether it’s willing to debate the pros and cons of election systems or whether it would rather point accusing fingers at the other side.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mel, one has to admire the rhetorical skills with which you make a plausible case for a completely false position. Regardless of who said what, the fact is that First Past the Post is an antiquated and dangerous system that gives complete power to minority parties. This happens to be a feature that some politicians love, and is the reason why they oppose proportional representation. First Past the Post allowed Doug Ford to elect 60% of the MLAs in Ontario with 40% of the vote; it allowed the CAQ to elect 59% of the MLA’s with 37% of the vote. It elected Donald Trump President of the United States with 46% of the vote. Back in 1996, it allowed the NDP to form government in BC even though they received _fewer_ votes than the Liberals. First Past the Post is not a sensible way to run a country. An electoral system should reflect the will of the voters; and any of the three proposed proportional systems in the Referendum will do that. First Past the Post does not. I hope that the voters of BC will have the good sense to reject the bad sense that you are presenting.
Thanks for continuing to provide an opportunity for discussion. I know you love PR and are just challenging the rest of us to verify our stance and convictions! 🙂 Ian MacKenzie stole my talking points about the 3 NDP folks mentioned. As for the veracity of PR, you’ve had conversations and a guest editorial from Gisela Ruckert, who is as strong an authority as British Columbia (maybe Canada) has to offer. On top of that, you’ve seen many mentions of the 13+ studies and Commissions over the last 20 years, across Canada, which repeatedly confirm PR as superior to FPTP. Facts and international examples speak more than just volumes; they provide irrefutable evidence that PR is the only way to go. As for the “Liberal talking points”, they are merely window-dressing at best, intentional fear-mongering at worst. There are no facts – zero – no studies, no domestic or international commissions which find FPTP superior to PR. The one and only “study” stating otherwise is from the Fraser Institute, which receives annual funding from the U.S. multi-billionaire Koch brothers. Even some of my card-carrying Liberal friends have discounted that “study”. Mel, there’s not much to debate. The OECD reports, the speeches from Helen Clark (former NZ Prime Minister now a huge PR fan), and on and on, speak more volumes in favor of PR that you are going to give me space. I trust you have mailed your ballot in favor of PR. Your system choice doesn’t matter as they all work for BC and are all a big improvement over what we have had for centuries. Look forward to chatting fact-to-fact one day – I mean, face-to-face! 🙂
You asked the question near the end of your editorial as to whether all the sources you discussed just repeated “Liberal talking points”. I read over their contributions carefully and noted that Dave Barrett, bless his soul, had voted “no” to PR in the 2005 referendum. I suspect that he did so because he had such an agenda of social legislation facing him that he needed to retain dictatorial powers to get them through. Glen Clark can be dismissed knowing where he ended up. Dosanjh was the only one who may have added a single reason not previously used by Mr. Wilkinson in his grand tour of the north. All your other sources faithfully repeated Liberal talking points.
This is quite a contrast to Christy Clark’s 2009 CKNW destruction of first past the post ending in her plea to all listeners to join her in voting for Proportional Representation. Sortly before the second referendum on electoral reform she stunned her listeners. Out of politics temporarily, she confessed that in her lengthy political experience she was as guilty as anybody else in her party “who are actively campaigning against (proportional representation), – – -people whose interest and, in many cases, whose income is dependent on keeping our system the way it is, people who – – – relish the ugly realities of the first-past-the-post system.” She crucified the defects of that system, extolled the virtues of Proportional Representation (PR) and begged her listeners to join her in voting for PR in the imminent referendum.
In so many pro FPTP arguments the people involved start the argument with “it has been working well for 125 years”.WOW !!! working well for who ???? In all that time anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent of the ledge is just sitting there taking home millions of dollars to “keep the gov’t Accountable. Just how they do that is a mystery since no minority gov’t has ever stopped a majority gov’t.Just what do they mean by accountable.???? In a single party majority gov’t there might not be any “Frtee votes ” in the ledge.These are the only votes in which the minority parties might be able to block legislation or hold the majority “accountable.” This tells me that all those people who,voted for an MLA in one of the minority paries might just as well have stayed home and not bothered voting .After all , their votes were stagnant in of no significance.With a proportional gov’t a great many more free votes will be put to use in parliament.Yes !! coalitions may change as the likes and dislikes of the MLA’s change and different issues appeal to differant Folks.This is far closer to the democratic ideal than pure single party dictatorships.LNG, the pipeline ,Site C all forced on an electorate using deplorable and ev en immoral and illegal tactics.These tactics have been adjudged by the federal appeal court as being unfair and unworkable and have been sent back to the drawing board. I believe we will see the same result over site C when the same appeal court that stopped the pipeline sees the same tactics used in forcing the site C project inspite of treaties and environmental impacts
Just who does first past the post work for.??The single party majority.!!! not you!!!
Forget about who said what. Look at how countries with PR actually work. I think Sweden is a good example here. This is a country where the social democrats have held plurality almost every year since the 1930’s. Yes, are a number of other parties which they govern with including the moderates, center party, the leftist, the green party, the Swedish democrats, etc,
but this has produced very stable governments up to now — this year being a rare exception.
Perpetual instability just didn’t happen there. Sweden and the Nordic countries in general are consistently ranked in the top ten for quality of living. Sweden is a country which is lightly populated in many places (like Canada), but people in these areas are not neglected. In fact, there is much higher level of commitment to helping marginalized groups than here in Canada. In contrast, the sparsely populated regions in Canada do not always get a fair shake.
For example, there are still many indigenous communities with unsafe drinking water.
The implication that PR parties work out their platforms after the election is wrong. Parties campaign on a platform, but any eventual decisions made by govt are often based on compromises with other parties.