Opinion Editorial

Right move at end of botched process

Postmedia Network

(Postmedia Network files)

(Postmedia Network files)

By the time the federal Liberals made it official this week that they were abandoning their promise to change the way Canadians vote, it was hardly a surprise.

Even before the mandate letter of the new minister for democratic institutions, Karina Gould, was published Wednesday, the government had already been backpedalling at full speed away from Justin Trudeau's campaign promise that the 2015 election would be the last held under the current system. Changes that looked enticing in opposition lost their allure once the status quo produced a majority government.

The Liberals are deservedly taking their lumps. Not only are they breaking an election promisethey botched the process from start to finish. In the end, it was all just a waste of Canadians' time and energy. Many people worked hard to devise and weigh alternatives to the current system, not least the members of a House of Commons committee that, late last year, issued a report calling for a referendum on a form of proportional representation.

On the substance, however, the government has come to the right decision. The first-past-the-post system still looks better than the alternatives.

Plus, there are bigger fish to fry these days.

A major complaint made against first-past-the-post is that it allows majority governments to be elected with the support of only a minority of voters. In each of the country's 338 federal ridings, the winner takes all, and the losing candidates -- and the voters who supported them -- are left with nothing.

But this tendency of the current system to amplify voters' collective choices is actually a strength. Majority governments have the power to act, and they can't blame others for what they do or don't do. Legislative paralysis is not an issue. (At least, not in the House of Commons; the impact of the newly independent Senate remains to be seen).

The last thing this country needs is a proportional representation system, modified or not, that would produce fragmented minority governments as a matter of course, where a small party supported only by a small number of voters could find itself holding the balance of power.

Better arguments can be made for a ranked ballot system, where voters' second choices would come into play until one candidate had majority support.

But it is clear that there is no national consensus on what course to take. And the current system has served this country well. There is no reason to change it, and certainly not on the hasty timetable the Liberals initially proposed.