Columnist ignores failings of FPTP electoral system

Columnist ignores failings of FPTP electoral system

Letter to the Editor from Joslyn Sharp of Trail

I would like to address concerns that Roslyn Kunin raised in her October 9th column (“Proportional representation an example of loser take all,” Trail Times, Oct. 9).

I was surprised by her take on the value of our current electoral system in BC and the risks she sees in our taking the opportunity to improve it. Between Oct. 22 and Nov. 30 we will be asked by Elections BC if we are satisfied with our current electoral system, called “First Past the Post” (FPTP). If we are not, we can vote for Proportional Representation on the Referendum’s Question 1.

Kunin postulates that only those of us who live in a “safe riding” for a party we don’t support would be frustrated with the FPTP system. I think she misses the point entirely here. While it may be disappointing to feel like the member elected in your riding doesn’t represent your political leanings, this is not my key concern. What bothers me is that majority governments are routinely elected through this system with as little as 40 per cent of the popular vote in the province. That means that as much as 60 per cent of the voters in the province voted against the MLAs who got ‘past the post’ first in their constituencies. With a majority government, the party in power is free to ignore the parties in opposition who represent the majority of voters and, strangely, Kunin thinks this is a good thing.

Evidently preferring stability over truer democracy, Kunin likes how our First Past the Post system tends to elect majority governments and keep them in power for the full length of their term. The downside of these so called “majority” governments is they can feel free to go back on some of their campaign promises and ignore the electorate until the year before the next election. Our silly system doesn’t usually give majority parties the “clear mandate” they try to claim, considering that in most cases most voters chose another party. Kunin would have us believe that it is a good thing to give parties and leaders that may take an arrogant, partisan approach, full power for four years in which they are free to undo the work of previous governments and erect legislative barriers to disadvantage their political opponents.

Minority governments have proven themselves to be much more responsive to the public will and adaptable to rapidly shifting situations and crises that we face in our 21st century. The Pearson government brought in Medicare while it was a minority government. Successful and good leaders are those who govern for all the citizens, not just their party supporters or base. They learn to work with the other elected representatives and develop policy that is good in the long term for the true majority of the electorate.

The current system works against new parties with new ideas just because they are new and haven’t hit the almost impossible critical mass to have a realistic shot at even one seat. This is not because their ideas are extreme. It is because most voters don’t want to waste their vote on a candidate whose party is never likely, under the current system, to have any representation in any government. So, the current FPTP system favours parties who have the good fortune be the primary representatives of the political left or right for decades at least, if not hundreds of years. It’s no wonder so many people are fed up with the lack of political choices.

Those people often don’t vote and don’t feel they have a stake in our province because governments get elected by other people who prefer those traditional parties with ideas and values that came out of very different times and circumstances. This gives us governments who are out of touch with a large group of citizens who, in turn, have given up on our form of democracy.

Ms. Kunin and others are arguing for keeping a system that produces what she calls “viable” governments. Viable for whom, exactly?

Joslyn Sharp


Trail Daily Times