Does Canada Need a New Electoral System: Among the Political Institutions Inherited from Our British Past Is the System by Which We Elect People to Office

Inroads: A Journal of Opinion, Annual 1998 | Go to article overview

Does Canada Need a New Electoral System: Among the Political Institutions Inherited from Our British Past Is the System by Which We Elect People to Office


Among the political institutions inherited from our British past is the system by which we elect people to office. This electoral system... is still commonly referred to by a metaphor whose origins lie in the British passion for horse racing: first-past-the-post (FPTP). Yet FPTP is on the defensive even in Britain and the lands settled by the British--with the exception of Canada. Britain, as Andrew Reynolds' article reveals, has made important changes and is contemplating others. Even in the U.S., as the article by Rob Richie and Steven Hill shows, proportional (PR) systems are being discussed and, at the local level, tested. Australia, from the start, adopted a system that significantly differed from FPTP, one that finds favour from Tom Flanagan in these pages. And in 1996, New Zealand went all the way: it implemented a mixed-member proportional system (MMP), the German form of PR--through a fascinating political saga here recounted by Peter Aimer.

If New Zealand, the most British of Britain's ex-colonies, could turn its back on FPTP, we should not be surprised that it has found no favour in the new South Africa or among the democracies that emerged in the wake of the demise of Communism. And while there may turn out to be good reasons for keeping PR out of Canada, there can be none for keeping out of a discussion taking place in the countries with which we have the closest affinity.

We have thus made electoral reform the main theme of this issue of Inroads. For a journal that is concerned with opinion and policy to focus on institutions is perhaps risky; there are technical aspects of electoral system reform that cannot be readily expressed in everyday language. …

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