BC’s experiment with FPTP is recent, and a failure

Wait… recent? haven’t we exclusively conducted provincial elections under first-past-the-post (FPTP) since BC joined confederation?

No, we have not. Not only did British Columbia experiment with ranked ballots in the 1950s, but the first BC election conducted entirely under FPTP was 1991. Prior to that, the electoral system used in each riding was fluid, changing from time to time. Most ridings used at least three different electoral systems
at one point or another over BC’s first 125. And these weren’t changed by a referendum, they were changed on a riding-by-riding basis by the government, however it suited them. As recently as 1986, a majority of BC voters lived in multi-member ridings that used a system similar to how we elect city councillors.

So first-past-the-post isn’t the way it’s always been for BC voters. How has it performed since we adopted it as our only electoral system for provincial elections? It’s done terribly, is the answer. We’ve had seven elections held exclusively under FPTP in BC history. All 7 failed to give us the governments we voted for. Consider:

– In 1996, in the popular vote the BC Liberals won the most votes, and should have had a minority government (likely supported by a vibrant BC Reform third party). Instead, first-past-the-post gave us an NDP majority government. Ouch, that result is pretty far removed from what voters asked for.

– In 2001, the popular vote suggested we wanted a BC Liberal majority government with an NDP official opposition (and a strong contingent of Greens right behind them). Instead, first-past-the-post denied us any official opposition at all, since only two opposition MLAs were elected (at the time, a minimum of four were required).

– In no election under FPTP have the BC Conservatives won any seats at all, despite often doing well in many regions of the province.

– Several of the 7 elections had the NDP and the BC Liberals very close in votes, only to be vastly separated in the seat count (sometimes benefitting the Liberals, sometimes benefitting the NDP).

In not one election has first-past-the-post given British Columbians the popular vote indicates they voted for.

Supporters of FPTP want us to believe that we’ve been using FPTP exclusively for a long time, and that’s it’s worked well. The record shows otherwise. We already don’t use FPTP for electing municipal councils in BC (Vancouver voters tried it at one time, then reverted back to a non-FPTP system in 1935, have rejected every attempt to bring it back). It’s time we also stop using first-past-the-post for provincial elections too. British Columbia’s experiment with FPTP has been recent, and a failure.


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