You’ve likely heard the saying about the faces changing but the stories remaining the same.
It came to mind for me last week reading the results and subsequent analysis of two elections – the first in Alberta and the second in the U.K. One election ended more than 40 years of conservative rule and although it was not a national election, the government in Alberta will have control over vast resources of oil, which could have a significant impact on the economy of Canada.
In case you did miss it, voters in Alberta surprised most of the rest of the country by electing an NDP government. The jokes were fast and furious about sightings of pigs flying over Edmonton and the devil skating across his lake of fire. One analyst even dubbed the province “Albertastan.”
All this before premier-designate Rachel Notley has been sworn in. All sorts of socialist programs and policies have been attached to Notley with a sort of ‘the end is nigh’ proselytizing you’d expect from the province’s Bible belt rather than its political gallery.
Across the pond in the U.K., however, voters returned a Tory government with a surprise majority after five years of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. Even party insiders seemed surprised at their clear mandate from voters.
A day or two later, however, and folks were protesting in the streets against the new government.
Again, the ‘losing’ side comes out with rhetoric about what the new government will do, the policies it will enact, etc. Same story, just different actors.
Both elections, though, have the potential to make voter reform a non-partisan issue. In the past, it’s primarily been the left to advocate for a change from our first-past-the-post system, which rewards the candidate with the most votes.
With a multi-party system that Canada and the U.K. have, the first person past the post often only carries about 30 per cent of the vote, the remainder split among the remaining parties, leaving 70 per cent of the voting population without representation.
Factor in the decreasing voter turnouts each election and you can start to understand just how few people decide who gets to run our country.
In Alberta, the NDP won 53 seats with 41 per cent of the popular vote. The conservative parties – Progressive Conservative and Wildrose – received 28 and 24 per cent respectively.
In the U.K., the far right-wing U.K. Independence Party captured more than 3.5 million votes, yet only won one seat in the House of Commons. I’m not advocating for more seats for the UKIP as I don’t know enough about the party to know if its values align with mine, but it does highlight the electoral reform issue that the left has been touting for years.
A more proportional system would see the traditionally elected candidates take their seats, while more representatives would be assigned based on each party’s share of votes. In both examples, the losing parties would likely have gained more seats in their respective legislatures. They might still not have formed government, but it would more accurately reflect voter choice.
Electoral reform is always a hard sell to governing parties, so we’ll likely be voting under first past the post for some time to come.
If you’re a voter who wants change now, though, the best way to do that is to vote. And get your friends and family to vote. First past the post takes an overwhelming groundswell of voter opinion to change a government, but as seen in Alberta, even four-decade dynasties can come to an end.