One of the reasons that is being advanced for preserving first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in BC’s election tomorrow is that it supposedly keeps the extremists at bay. This argument suggests that countries with proportional representation like Israel are subject to the whims of radicals like Avigdor Lieberman. The drama played out in Israel in the wake of the last election saw different parties trying to find a way to please Lieberman so that he might enter into a coalition with several more mainstream parties.
That sort of thing never happens in Canada, right? Actually it does. FPTP rewards parties with lots of regional support so we reward not so much ideological radicals as we do regional ones. In the past couple of years we have seen the Liberals, the NDP, and the Conservatives all prepared to enter into coalitions or understandings or what-have-you with the Bloc. So yeah, if some horse-trading is needed here, our system is just as likely to produce radicals who might hold the balance of power.
But FPTP produces more majority governments where mainstream parties don’t have to do deals with fringe players, right? Well, um, not exactly – it still happens but it’s actually more insidious. Take Brian Mulroney’s grand coalition: he won a huge majority but at the expense of giving Lucien Bouchard the platform from which he could launch his separatist ambitions. How many PC voters in 1984 knew that they were voting for a coalition with separatists? Right now the Ontario PC Party is accommodating itself to the radical fringe that is most embodied in MPP and leadership candidate Randy Hillier. Hillier is unlikely to win the leadership but he may well play king-maker and at any rate he’s likely to get a cabinet position if the PCs win an election any time soon.
What this means is that we have extremist views inside the large brokerage parties, however these views are given the venerable stamps of the big parties. Randy Hillier does not have to run as the leader of his crazy Lanark Landowners group, no, he gets the more respectable Progressive Conservative tag – again, the same tag that got Lucien Bouchard a national spotlight. Right now our extremists smuggle themselves in under the banners of mainstream parties, under a proportional system, we could at least name them and publicly understand what they wanted in exchange for membership in a coalition government.
I hope BC voters will consider this when they head to the polls tomorrow.