EDITORIAL: Popularity contest

Trudeau's promise to re-examine 'first-past-the-post' could be fraught with complications.

In the wake of Monday’s election, prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau is carrying around a lengthy laundry list of promises.

Many are urging that he immediately make good on a pledge to re-examine Canada’s “first-past-the-post” electoral system.

Trudeau’s 32-point plan to “restore democracy” included creating an all-party parliamentary committee to look at potential alternatives, including proportional representation, ranked ballots, mandatory voting and online voting.

Worrying to many is that the current system – in which the candidate who receives the highest number of votes wins that riding – does not require the winner to glean a majority of votes cast. Since the number of votes can be split as many ways as there are parties and candidates, it means the person who ends up representing the seat in Ottawa may also represent a minority of the constituents.

Detractors also note that the system encourages the “strategic voting,” concept – much vaunted during the recent election – in which individuals may cast ballots only against the candidate they least want to see in office.

In neither of these scenarios, opponents argue, can the true will of the electorate be seen.

Among alternatives to first-past-the-post, the strongest and most frequently suggested is proportional representation, in which seats in the Commons are apportioned according each party’s share of the popular vote. But not only does this frequently mean electing multiple members in each district, it also means it would be hard for any party to gather a majority of seats and, consequently, an increase in the number of coalition governments.

Neither first-past-the-post nor proportional representation, it can be argued, is without faults or likely to remove voter dissatisfaction entirely. There is simply no pleasing everyone.

But the task of fine-tuning and weighing the electoral process to ensure fair proportional representation in each riding would seem to be endless – and quite possibly – fruitless. Where would such well-meaning but arbitrary tampering begin and, even more importantly, where would it end?

It might quickly become the proverbial road to hell, paved with good intentions but fraught with complications.

First-past-the-post seems to remain by far the simplest option. In an imperfect world, voters must ask themselves what’s so wrong, really, with a good, old-fashioned, high school popularity contest.

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