STV for BC - Vote Yes!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Changing Systems

British Columbia isn't the only place having an election these days, British, uh, Britain is having one as well. Britain's current state of affairs is somewhat similar to B.C. in that they have two main parties (the somewhat to the right wing Conservative party and the somewhat to the left Labour party) and a smaller more leftist third party known as the Liberal Democrats (plus the usual collection of really small parties).

That's just some background to this interesting article by Richard Dawkins that appeared in The Independent, the other day. Says Dawkins in explaining why he supports the campaign of Reg Keys (an anti-war independent candidate running against Blair in the Sedgefield riding):

"But the most important thing the centre-left coalition might achieve is proportional representation. This would kill, once and for all, the idea that a vote for anybody other than Labour or Conservative is "wasted". Votes are wasted in this sense only because of the flagrantly undemocratic first-past-the-post system. With the single transferable PR system, no vote is wasted. You vote your preference - and no silly scares about big bad Tories.
Under the first-past-the-post system, your vote is wasted unless you happen to live in a marginal constituency. We saw this in America, with the grotesque concentration of electioneering firepower and money in a few key states such as Ohio and Florida. The only people who like first-past-the-post are politicians whom it puts into power. The Liberal Democrats have long been committed to PR. My greatest hope is that a hung parliament might enable them to implement it. This would benefit the long-term future of our democracy: a boon that would long outlive the short-term promises of any party."

Sound familiar?

I thought this article was interesting since one of the reasons 'No' supporters offer for sticking with our current system is that is an important part of our British system of government which we shouldn't risk messing with. So it would be kind of ironic if Britain ends up switching to STV (or some other form of PR) leaving us and the Americans as the last two Western countries still using just First Past the Post.

In a way, this situation kind of reminds me of the debate between the Imperial system of measurement and the Metric system. For most of the world, the decision to switch to metric was a relatively easy one since it was clearly a superior system. In England, Canada and the U.S. however, the decision was drawn out and controversial because of our love for tradition and resistance to change. Canada eventually made the switch to Metric on our own while the English got dragged into it by the Europeans. The Americans still won't switch.

Similarly, England, Canada and the U.S. are also lagging the world in changing to a proportional electoral system. England has already switched to a form of PR for its European elections as well as for regional elections in Scotland, Wales and Nothern Ireland. Canada is taking steps towards PR as well, and of course, in the U.S. progress is barely even on the radar screen.

So on May 17th you have a choice between our old, good for its time but its time has passed Imperial, First-Past-the-Post electoral system, or the new, superior, metric, Single Transferable Vote system. And while switching to metric was controversial at the time - do you think many people would want to go back?


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