Reform of voting system urged

Antony Hodgson, a UBC professor, has declared Canada’s voting system absurd.

  • May. 4, 2012 5:00 a.m.

A UBC professor has declared Canada’s voting system absurd.

Professor Antony Hodgson, president of Fair Voting B.C., recently spoke at the Okanagan-Shuswap Green Party’s food fair and annual general meeting at the Enderby Drill Hill.

“There is virtually no relation between popular support and seats won. Balloting in other nations has evolved to better represent the interests of all voters, not just those of a minority,” said Hodgson, noting that 16 of the 17 elections in B.C. since 1952 have produced a majority government but only once has the winning party won 50 per cent of the popular vote.

In 2001, with 58 per cent of the vote, Liberals took a whopping 97 per cent of the seats. On another occasion, with barely 40 per cent of the vote, the winning party took 70 per cent of the seats. The reverse also happens, where 40 per cent of the vote has given a party only 20 per cent of the seats.

“My kids don’t think this makes any sense and can’t believe this is the way so-called grown-ups do things,” said Hodgson.

“The current system was designed for two parties 200 years ago. It leads to extreme swings in policy. It allows a few close ridings to determine the government. In 2005, BC Liberals won 13 seats more than the NDP with only a four per cent lead in the popular vote. If as few as 1,300 voters out of 1.7 million had switched from Liberal to NDP, the NDP could have won a majority. This hypersensitivity to a small shift in votes makes our system vulnerable to manipulations such as the robocall tactic. Most Canadians don’t want that.

“Canadians want a system that offers proper representation of political beliefs, regions, gender, ethnicity and ages. They want a system that minimizes financial influence; that encourages consultation and negotiation and is not subject to extreme shifts in policy” said Hodgson. “They want a democracy in which MPs are responsive to voters, not forced to toe the party line.”

Other voting systems provide more representative government, including the BC-STV recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly.

“New ways of voting may be unfamiliar when we first hear about them, but it’s like learning how to use a word processor in place of an old typewriter. Once you get it, you never go back because the word processor just does a better job.”

Using trays of coloured Smarties, Hodgson explained how proportional representation works. The result is a close match between the popular vote and the number of seats each party occupies in government.

“It’s an honest representation of voter choice. It avoids vote splitting strategies. It encourages voter turnout because it really does give meaning to each vote,” he said.

“People didn’t immediately embrace STV in part because they weren’t familiar with it. UBC political science professor Fred Cutler has shown that support for STV rose as voters learned more about it.  Most western countries have some form of proportional representation. The Academy Awards uses it. Christy Clark probably wishes it were in place for next year’s election. Proportional representation can save a party from disappearing into near-oblivion, as happened to the NDP in 2001 here in B.C. and to the federal PCs in 1993.”

Hodgson called on community action groups to explore how voting systems control the political process. He urged them to build a consensus for democratic reform.

“It’s a matter of recognizing the link between day to day policy and the need for a fair voting system that reflects all voters’ concerns in legislation.  Once people get that link, democratic reform will come,” he concluded.