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Letter: Change political system to tackle voter apathy?

Re: Recent letters to the editor by Tony Sottile and William E. McLeod about proportional representation.
Re: Recent letters to the editor by Tony Sottile and William E. McLeod about proportional representation.

The authors of the above letters, responding to a column by Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle in support of voting reform, both condemn proportional representation on the grounds that — in their opinion — Ontario and Canada would be condemned to perpetual minority government.

One writer brushes off low voter turnout as “regrettable” but not really important. The other raises the spectre of a legislature with representation by splinter parties and special-interest groups.

Please consider some history.

At the time that “first past the post” was enshrined as the way to elect representatives and hence government, there were only two political parties to choose from. Hence, one of the two had to receive more than 50 per cent of the vote to form government.

The claim that the party in government represented the majority was in fact not fiction. However, times and politics change: at present, Canada has four parties represented in the House of Commons, and it has been many years since any party received 50 per cent of the ballots cast and a true “majority” mandate.

Under “first past the post,” it is quite possible to be in the absurd situation that a candidate can claim victory with no more than a quarter of the ballots cast in his or her riding.

There may be six or seven candidates vying for election, resulting in a “majority” win, despite a 75-per-cent vote against the successful candidate.

The threat of “unstable government” due to the potential election of “splinter” candidates is just that — a threat. The idea that fringe parties could take enough of the popular vote to take even one seat is nonsensical.

It’s the rare riding in which a “splinter” candidate, whether independent or representing a fringe party, reaches triple-digit votes.

I suggest that the insistence that change is unnecessary — that the “status quo” is satisfactory — cannot be sustained in the face of voter apathy and the widespread perception that voting is meaningless.

Change is essential if we are to stimulate renewed interest in, and commitment to, our political process. Refusal to consider change is mental laziness.

Chris Cosby