It's not 1923, or is it?

A Snapshot of History

Photo credit: Fair Vote Canada.

One of the things that frustrates me the most about this cause is that every time there is a new group of politicians, they get to start the learning all over again - same questions, same issues... This issue is not new, and all these questions have been asked and answered time again, but it's always new to them.

To put this decision about electoral reform in perspective, let's rewind about 100 years. In 1919, MacKenzie King's Liberals campaigned on a promise to implement proportional representation (in those days, that meant PR-STV - there was no MMP).

This came out of a party resolution for PR - a stronger resolution than our current Liberals based their platform on. King's Liberals formed a minority government. At that time some of our cities in BC, Alberta and Manitoba were using PR-STV. First, they had an all-party Parliamentary Committee. The committee talked all about the distorted results of first-past-the-post, and "the merits of true proportional representation", but then instead of recommending PR what did they do? They recommended Alternative Vote (another winner-take-all system).

This was brought to the House for a vote.

As a result of PR being thrown out by the committee, a private member put forth a motion for PR (I'll elaborate below).

The transcript of the debate is 46 pages long, and I must admit I did not read the whole thing in detail, but I skimmed enough of it to share the gist of it.

In the House, these men started talking electoral reform in the mid-afternoon - at 6 PM they broke for dinner - then they carried on till 11:30 at night.

It's not the kind of "debate" you see today, where a couple of members from Party A get up and read scripted talking points, then some guy like Pierre Poilievre responds with more scripted government talking points on a completely unrelated topic, a fiasco that degenerates into boos, cheers, and heckling.

This discussion was extremely detailed, there seemed to be a genuine attempt to explain something to one another, and influence one another, even though some of them had obvious fixed opinions.

First thing - GET THIS - the MPs almost unanimously passed the motion for Alternative Vote. It didn't take very long. It was not much change from the status quo and they all knew it. As we would say today, it wasn't "real change."

Then the next resolution (the private member's bill) was that they do an EXPERIMENT, where they create just one or two multi-member ridings in Canada, have STV elections there, and see how "true proportional representation" worked out.

The supporters put forth ALL the FAIR VOTE CANADA TALKING POINTS FROM TODAY. Change the years and the attire and it could have been us, yesterday. The House heard:

- a list of all the recent past elections with distorted results - the virtues of PR in terms of fairness and representation - places in the world where PR was working

In response the detractors argued all the opposition points you hear today to STV (and often to PR in general):

- ridings will be too big - the ballots are too complicated - it's not traditional - look at dysfunctional Place X that has it - it isn't working there - fringe or one issue groups get elected - better to have a majority in a riding or in Parliament - minority groups will control the Parliament

I think the one I'll remember most was the MP who objected to STV because he said that in a riding with 5 MPs, what if 4 of them were lazy and did no work and the one hard working MP had to do all the work?

And an opposition party MP said in all his years he had never seen anything like it during the debate: The Liberal Party supposedly supported PR, their platform was for PR, but they had nothing whatsoever to say on PR now that it was coming to a vote. The rest of the House was supposed to discern a position from that.

Finally at almost 11:30 at night, they voted. YES to PR: 72. NO: 90.

The next time PR was seriously talked about by the Liberals wasn't until 1979. NEXT BLOG: Can the Liberals be trusted with PR?

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