So, you think we live in a democracy here in Nova Scotia, where everyone’s vote counts the same?
Here are the winners of every election in my lifetime, with the percentage of the popular vote won, and the percentage of seats won for each election.
- May 1967 – Seats won, 87%; Vote won, 52.8%
- October 1970 – Seats won, 50%; Vote won, 46.1%
- April 1974 – Seats won, 67%; Vote won, 47.9%
- September 1978 – Seats won, 60%; Vote won, 45.8%
- October 1981 – Seats won, 71%; Vote won, 47.5%
- November 1984 – Seats won, 81%; Vote won, 50.6%
- September 1988 – Seats won, 54%; Vote won, 43.4%
- May 1993 – Seats won, 77%; Vote won, 49.7%
- March 1998 – Seats won, 37%; Vote won, 35.3%
- July 1999 – Seats won, 58%; Vote won, 39.2%
- August 2003 – Seats won, 48%; Vote won, 36.3%
- June 2006 – Seats won, 44%; Vote won, 39.6%
- June 2009 – Seats won, 60%; Vote won, 45.3%
- October 2013 – Seats won, 65%; Vote won, 45.7%
- May 2017 – Seats won, 53%; Vote won, 39.5%
Not once has the party that won a general election got as much of the popular vote as it has seats won.
With only two exceptions (1967 and 1984) has a party that formed a majority government actually earned it by winning the majority of the votes – and even in those two cases, the results were dreadfully skewed.
Time after time, I hear about voter disenchantment. Time after time, I hear people complain about the way government is run. Time after time, I hear people comment on the terrible shape our province is in.
If you’re looking for the reason why, look no further than the first-past-the-post electoral system that has institutionalized inertia and partisanship (all in the name of a “stability” which benefits only those who currently enjoy the status quo), all the while undermining the single, overwhelming core principle of a democracy – that the will of the people, as expressed in a free and fair election, determines who governs us, which in turn determines how we are governed.
What we have had all these years is a system that ensures a rotating tyranny of the minority, where political parties don’t even bother trying to craft consensus, or policies that might be good for everyone, because all they want to do is win enough seats to form a majority government so they can run the dictatorship the way they want to, as opposed to the way the other guys want to – which is to say, so they can reward their guys with patronage, as opposed to the other guys.
That’s the first thing I discovered when I ran for office, and naively suggested to campaign higher-ups that perhaps we should be reaching out to voters across the political spectrum (a must-do for someone running in a constituency where the party had finished a mostly distant third for fifteen years). The reply?
Get Out The Vote. As in, “Our Vote” – a vote that all parties have done their best to identify through sophisticated data bases. The “other guys”? Well, I was told that I would be better served knocking on the doors of known Progressive Conservatives multiple times than I would be trying to engage people in areas that tended to vote NDP or Liberal. That, one senior person told me, was a “waste of time” (and less you think the PCs are singularly guilty of this, they are not – it’s a toxic mindset that infects all of the parties).
I ignored that advice completely, and did a lot better than previous candidates for my party had. It was a start.
In almost all of the elections noted above, there would have been a minority government that would have had to cooperate with others, and compromise, in order to form and implement an agenda. But that’s not what party’s want (which is fair enough, if you can win a majority honestly).
But I am convinced that it would be a good thing.
How do I know? Because, on a practical level, the other way hasn’t worked… and on a principled level, a jurisdiction that rewards a minority of the voters with a majority of the seats is nothing more than a permanently institutionalized version of America’s electoral college by another name, where the system encourages parties to double-down on their tribalism, as opposed to reaching out to create a broader coalition.
The former is the epitome of bad governance. The latter is the epitome of good governance.
I know which one I prefer.
Accordingly, it’s time for a change in how we elect our representatives in Nova Scotia.
The debate needs to be not about whether we should keep the antiquated First-Past-The-Post system, but rather about what system we create to replace it.
It’s a conclusion (get rid of FPTP), and then a discussion (replace it with something fairer), that is long overdue.