First Past the Post: corruption and political disengagement

Vote Yes to Pro Rep

British Columbia is in the middle of a referendum on electoral reform. We are deciding whether we should switch to a Proportional Representation (PR or Pro Rep) system from our current First Post the Post (FPTP) system. I decided to write this post because the official Yes to PR group, Vote PR BC, has failed to communicate a really key point: that political corruption, and the public’s resulting feelings of political hopelessness and lack of faith in the political process, are are more related to our broken First Past the Post electoral system than we realize.

People understand that our governments are opaque and corrupt. When talking about their pessimism about politics, they say “well, the government is bought by Big Money”—and that’s true. But FPTP is extremely vulnerable to corruption, and that corruption, along with the fact that most of our votes don’t count under FPTP, both generate enormous political apathy and disengagement. But how exactly does First Past the Post facilitate corruption? 

It’s down to a simple structural fact: under FPTP, hardly any votes matter. The only votes that matter for the 2 main parties (which forever remain the two main parties under FPTP, because the strategic voting that FPTP encourages inevitably gives power to the 2 main parties) are the 2% of voters at their mutual boundary. They don’t need to expand their bases through great policy—they only have to be marginally better than the other party they’re vying with in the opinion of that very specific 2%. So both parties narrowcast all their efforts and messaging at that tiny minority of swing voters and swing ridings. None of the rest of us matter at all. Most of our ridings are “safe,” and our ideas and preferences are thus irrelevant. Our votes simply don’t count, so our priorities don’t make it through the Legislature door. It’s as if the many things that vast swaths of BCers care about simply don’t exist. This is why our politics seem so disconnected from anything actually happening on the ground.

As for the corruption element? That’s easy—lobbyists representing corporations, Big Money and Big Labour can game both parties by threatening them with interference with that tiny minority of swing voters. It’s laughably easy for them to accomplish that. As a result, lobbyists for special interests have the ability to grab both parties by the neck before lunch. (BTW, that’s also why both parties increasingly resemble each other, and also why the NDP is tracking so far right in BC, other provinces, and Canada in general.)

Meet the No to Pro Rep side

Far too much of our political dysfunction comes down to First Past the Post. FPTP was never designed for a multi-party environment like ours. It’s irreparably broken.

Proportional representation, on the other hand, brings more stability, new ideas and oxygen into government. The fractious yelling is lessened, parties are forced to work together cordially, and the ideas of BCers all across the province are better represented. Contrary to the fearmongering of the No side, PR is the far more stable, far less extreme, and far more hopeful system. The vast majority of the countries in the list of the world’s top performing economies use Pro Rep. They also tend to have better social development.

There are many more arguments that can be made in favour of Pro Rep, but I have decided to stick to my major beef with FPTP here. No matter which of the three types of Pro Rep we might end up with, they will all be infinitely better than First Past the Post. Find many informative articles on Pro Rep in the articles below.

We have only 2 weeks left to win this referendum. This race is going to be extremely tight, so every single vote counts. Please help us defeat the broken system that’s standing in the way of a healthier future. Vote Yes to Pro Rep, and urge everyone around you to do the same. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Oh, I forgot: how did I vote? For question 1, I voted Yes to PR. For question 2, I ranked the 3 choices in this order: Rural-Urban Proportional (a form of STV); then Mixed Member Proportional, then Dual Member Proportional, in that order. But you don’t have to answer question 2 if you don’t want to—if you leave it blank, it doesn’t spoil your ballot. I recommend answering it though. Oh and we’ve had Pro Rep in B.C. before: it’s the system WAC Bennett was elected under in BC years ago!

(NOTE: You must have your ballot back to Elections BC by November 30. That means mailing it no later than Nov 25, or dropping it off in person by end of business on the 30th at Service Canada – all BC locations are here.)

Some useful videos, memes and written resources for you…

Vote Yes to Pro Rep

Perhaps nothing underscores the ridiculous unfairness of First Past the Post better than this video: “First Past the Pizza”

Vote Yes to Pro Rep!


Info pages – all have information on the 3 types of Pro Rep being proposed

Fair Vote Canada/BC
Elections BC
Vote PR BC

Quiz to help you decide which form of Pro Rep you prefer: take the questionnaire

Myth buster! Proportional Representation Fact Checker

Articles on Pro Rep and its forms

Andrew Coyne: No, proportional representation would not turn Canada into a dystopian hellhole

Vancouver Sun, Douglas Todd: Five empirical reasons to lean to pro-rep
“Decades of academic research has shown proportional representation is strong in at least five areas: Representing the population, reducing government debt, producing more benevolent societies, creating stable governments and combating extremism.”

BC Civil Liberties Association – Why the Arguments Against Electoral Reform in BC Are Wrong

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – The Case for Electoral Reform

Remarks from Attorney General Dave Eby

Alaska Highway News, op-ed by farmer Ken Boon, Let’s Give Proportional Representation a Chance

On the Nazi issue: Did Proportional Representation put the Nazis in power? (No.)

On the problem of groups like Cambridge Analytica influencing govt more under FPTP: Proportional Representation isn’t all about the Data

“Heard Support for Pro-Rep Is Waning?” Don’t Believe It – Press reports seized on a poll that compares apples to an orange

Letter:  The BC Liberals and the Divine Right to Govern

Letter: Want a good reason to vote for Pro Rep? Look who’s telling you not to

Last but not least: Justin Trudeau betrayed us on electoral reform federally. So why is this page still up on the federal government website?

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