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OPINION: First-past-the-post or mixed member proportional representation?

A voter casts a ballot.
A voter casts a ballot. - 123RF Stock Photo

Mildred Dover

Guest Opinion

I have been following with interest the various opinion pieces on first-past-the-post (FPPT) and mixed member proportional representation (MMP).

When I was speaker of the P.E.I. Legislative Assembly, I had the opportunity to visit numerous legislative assemblies in various cities around the world, including one country I visited where MMP voting is used. I observed, with interest, this new system in actual practice, and had the opportunity to discuss the system with members of the government there who were my guides.

It became clear to me that there were differences in the involvement, attention and interest of certain members as opposed to others. Those members, for example, who belonged to single-interest parties and had managed to get elected were, for the most part, showing little interest in the discussions of the day. It was explained to me that their election had resulted in continuing minority governments. Their interest was primarily in their single-issue causes. As a result, they held the governing party hostage, in a sense. Unless the governing party agreed to the single issue on which they focused, no support for the governing party’s agenda would be forthcoming. This, for me, was the perfect example of “the tail wagging the dog.”

Under MMP, the number of these single-issue parties grew as years went by. But I watched them as they read, chatted and seemed oblivious to the main thrust of the day’s legislative agenda.

For me, another major concern is the significant contrast there would be under MMP between the so-called “list candidates” and the “constituent candidates.” The latter are those candidates who usually contest nominating conventions, place their names and philosophies before the public, knock on doors, discuss issues with voters, and seek the confidence of these same voters. If elected, the candidates have provided opportunities by which the constituents get to know their elected candidates, and it is to those same electors that the candidates owe a great deal of loyalty.

The “list candidates,” by contrast, have their names placed on a list by the party itself. How does one get his or her name on the list? Good question! Is it someone who has contributed to the party? Someone who tried to get elected under FPTP, couldn’t get enough support, and is now being rewarded? Someone whose brother/sister, relative was influential in the party? The selection process for “list candidates” raises concerns for me.

In addition, the question next to be answered is – to whom does this candidate owe his or her loyalty? Is the loyalty to a voter or group of voters who may later approach government with a need they feel government is ignoring? Or is the loyalty to the party who was responsible for putting names on a list, a percentage of whom get named to the legislative assembly?

I urge Island voters to be sure to vote on the referendum question. I would be fearful of MMP being selected by default. As well, I urge Islander voters to vote No to a system that is, in effect, in only a minority of democratic countries around the world. I appreciate the criticisms against the first-past-the-post system. I agree it is not perfect. However, even with its faults, in my opinion, it is a proven system that we know. Let us no listen to those who would try to convince us that it has failed miserably over the years. It hasn’t, and a lot of good has been achieved. It is my conviction that Islanders deserve a fair and democratic government, comprised totally of duly-elected, known and caring candidates. The Island deserves nothing less.

Mildred Dover of Charlottetown is a former member of the legislative assembly (MLA), cabinet minister and speaker of the legislative assembly on P.E.I.

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