Competition and Choice: As Important in Politics as in the Market

November 17, 2008

By Bruce Krayenhoff and Eric Nadal

Previously Published in the UBC Graduate Magazine

Ujal Dosanj’s recent comments illustrate why I am again and again disappointed by elected politicians. He said here that

New Democrats need to decide whether there is any use for the federal NDP in this country today if it’s going to mean at the end of the day a right-wing government led by Stephen Harper

In light of the recent election, when the outcome did not reflect the will of a majority of Canadians his frustration is understandable, but the best solution to this dilemma of vote splitting and skewed election results is crystal clear to those who have studied it. The enemy is not the voter; it is our first past the post electoral system, described by the Law Commission of Canada as one that “no longer responds to 21st century Canadian democratic values.”

Indeed, every time the government has set up a commission or a committee to look into whether we should change our voting system, it has invariably recommended that we should adopt some form of proportional system. One of the many reasons given is that our current system strongly benefits the Bloc Quebecois, and could ultimately help tear Canada apart. Nevertheless, many federal politicians are willing to take this ultimate gamble for a system where most incumbents are easily re-elected (unless they’re in a swing riding) and where political parties can form a majority government without needing to convince a majority of the population to vote for them.

In the economy we emphasize the importance of competition and consumer choice for a healthy, functioning market. When it comes to politics why is the first “solution” that comes to a politician’s mind a two-party, US-style system with no voter choice? Don’t voters deserve better than to be bullied into voting against their personal beliefs? What kind of solution do the ordinary people of this country want?

This is not a hypothetical question. In 2004 the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, a non-partisan body of 160 randomly selected BC voters, spent a year learning about electoral systems and consulting with the public. They recommended a new voting system for BC: BC-STV (Single Transferable Vote). Key values that guided their decision were proportionality, voter choice and more accountable MLAs.

BC-STV accurately translates votes into seats, so that voters actually get the government they voted for. It provides voters with more choice among parties and among the candidates from each party, so that every single riding is competitive and every single MLA can be held accountable.

Voters recognize that competition and choice are just as important in politics as in the market. It’s time the powers that be recognize this too, and end two-party monopolies

In British Columbia, voters will have a second chance to choose the BC-STV electoral system recommended by the BC Citizens’ Assembly in a referendum on May 12th, 2009.

BC-STV was supported by 58% of British Columbians in 2005, just short of the 60% threshold set by the government.

This is an historic opportunity, not only to fix our broken system provincially, but also to jump start necessary reforms across the country.

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