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Preferring the preferential ballot

Almost every major party has promised some sort of electoral reform if they form government next week.
wblock-logoCanadians are becoming increasingly disenfranchised with the first-past-the-post voting system, which continually delivers majority governments to parties that do not secure a majority of the country’s votes. Unless we move to a two-party system, which no one wants, we will always have the possibility of electing a government that doesn’t capture more than 50 per cent of the vote.
It’s a tough call. Our system democratic system is based on majority rule but we don’t need a majority to rule.
There are several suggestions for change, such as preferential balloting. Under that system, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate secures more than 50 per cent of the votes, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped off the ballot, and the second choices of those who voted for that candidate are counted in hopes of sending someone over the 50 per cent threshold. If not, then the next lowest is dropped, etc.
It’s a good system in that it gives the voter more power. One of the biggest reasons for voter apathy is the feeling that one’s vote doesn’t matter, especially if you want to vote for someone other than the front-runner. Preferential balloting means that even if you don’t vote for one of the favourites, your vote may help determine the winner.
Preferential balloting also means the candidates have to work harder.
Currently, in a riding with three or four solid contenders, a candidate only needs to court 35-40 per cent of the vote to win the seat. The rest can actually be ignored.
Under preferential balloting candidates must try to make themselves appealing to a broader range of voters. They have to try to not only make themselves the No.1 choice of a majority of voters, but the No. 2 or No. 3 choice as well.
Tougher to do, but the end result is an elected representative for whom more than 50 per cent of the voters actually marked a ballot for … might not be their first or second choice, but they were a choice.
However, how we elect MPs isn’t our biggest problem. What they do after they get elected is a much bigger problem.
While the preferential balloting system has lots pluses, its end result is still a government ruled by party politics, party whips, toeing-the-line, and hyper-partisanship. It does nothing to alleviate the criticism that when we elect a majority government we elect a dictatorship for four years … irrespective of who is in power. Changing our voting system only to send members to Ottawa to do as they’ve always done, accomplishes nothing.
The only time things are different are when we elect a minority government. Politicians hate the prospect of a minority government because it means they have to negotiate rather than dictate. Government may move more slowly, but what it does will likely be more reflective of the actual majority.
Electoral reform involves not only changing how we vote, but how we’re represented in Ottawa. It seems likely that we will have a minority government next week with electoral reform a platform plank of a majority of the parties.
Will anyone actually make a change?
Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at

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