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Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (The Globe and Mail)
Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (The Globe and Mail)

Douglas Bell

The first-past-the-post problem Add to ...

While I agree with my friend Brian Topp across the way that in making his ruling yesterday Peter Milliken "has joined the more than honourable ranks of principled advocates of democracy - those who have stood up, decisively, many times in the long history of parliamentary government, against autocracy and excessive executive power," I do so with a caveat. Our first-past-the-post system invites the very rancor and division that the Speaker seeks, through his ruling, to rectify.

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"The House and the government have, essentially, an unbroken record of some 140 years of collaboration and accommodation in cases of this kind," Milliken said. "It seems to me that it would be a signal failure for us to see that record shattered in the third session of the 40th Parliament because we lacked the will or the wit to find a solution to this impasse."

But can will and wit overcome a system that defeats collegiality at every turn?

In The Observer this week, British political pundit Will Hutton wrote in a column lamenting first past the post and advocating proportional representation:

"If you can move a few per cent towards you, especially in the marginals, control of the state falls into your hands. With stakes this high party leaderships impose iron control on their parties to stay 'on message'. They court the good opinion of the aggressively populist media with populist initiative after populist initiative. The centre becomes ever more important. Political debate and argument is behind closed doors, with MPs rehearsing the line to take and voting dutifully as lobby fodder. A political career for many MPs is reduced from being an honourable vocation to being the puppet of the small coterie around the leader."

Sound familiar? As admirable an initiative as his is, I fear Milliken's mission is doomed so long as our current electoral system remains in place.

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