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2011 Election

Are the injustices of First-Past-The-Post becoming too hard to ignore?

Image Courtesy of Maple Leaf Web

It is always news to the ears of electoral reform supporters when mainstream media outlets report on the possibility of changing our outdated system. The Guelph Mercury spent spent some time yesterday talking with Guelph Political Scientist Judith McKenzie on the subject, thinking about the likelihood of a discussion on electoral reform being one of the potential outcomes after May 2.

The most fascinating reason that the Mercury thinks Canadians may initiate the discussion this time around has nothing to do with the benefits of electoral reform (ensuring greater party representation; no wasted ballots; more minority Parliamentarians, etc.). Rather, it has everything to do with how pathetically outdated our current system is, and the overwhelmingly unjust and frustrating experience it can create for millions of Canadian voters. Still – as someone who has been in favour of electoral reform for years now, whether we march proudly into the discussion on the national stage or sneak in the back door because the main act is bombing, I don’t particularly care if the outcome is the same.

Want just one example of the injustice of the current single-member plurality system, a.k.a. First-Past-the-Post? Feast your ear-tongues on this memory pop (thanks Community)! Under the current system,

the Green Party garnered nearly a million votes in the last election without winning a single seat in Parliament. Meanwhile, with fewer votes, the Conservative Party won 27 seats in Alberta alone.

Want another? Here is one to be fair to our Conservative-voting friends:

in the 2008 Election, a quarter-million Conservative voters in Toronto elected no one and neither did Conservative voters in Montreal.

Why would we not want to take a serious look at creating a system that ensures those 1.25M votes cast in 2008 alone (votes cast for every political party!) are not wasted in the future?

McKenzie also figures that electoral reform can get a boost if the Canadian trend towards lower and lower voter turnouts on May 2 continues. If a government is elected by less than a third of eligible voters, McKenzie believes Canadians may finally say enough is enough.

But not everyone is convinced. Andrew Coyne from Macleans Magazine tweeted this article this morning, commenting bluntly that “it will never happen.” And as long as no party is championing this with a large enough number of seats, Coyne is probably right. To date it has been the NDP and the Green Party that have pushed for electoral reform, largely because they stand the most to gain.

I wonder what Layton will say on this issue if his party manages to snag a record-breaking number of seats in this election? Will the NDP care as much about electoral reform anymore if they have found a way to win seats the old-fashioned way?

The first step is to have a larger number of Canadians understand the frailties and injustices of the current system, and have the possible types of electoral reform explained to them in such a way that their heads don’t explode. This is not a Herculean task, but it requires a skilled communicator who can make the complex understood to the masses.

Is Rick Mercer available?

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


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