Posted by: jmtoriel | November 13, 2008

Democratic Rip Off

Take a deep breath, Canada. It’s going to be a very bumpy ride until we decide to improve our electoral system to becoming more representative of the electorate. The continued slump in voter turnouts (the 40th General Election was the lowest in Canada’s history) within a dysfunctional minority government will undoubtedly continue until we restore faith in voter confidence. Meanwhile, on the other side of the 49th parallel, Barrack Obama’s overwhelming victory has restored faith in a truly battered bi-partisan presidential system and where the real loser (this time) was apathy. 

In times of economic and ecological crises, people want to know that they will be supported and properly represented by a functional and effective government. Instead, we’ve been ripped off by our electoral system. Sigh…

The facts: 37% of voters amongst 59.1% of the electorate (that actually voted in the election) and a 1% gain for the Conservatives from the previous election does not a mandate make. And yet, Harper and the Conservatives are again forming a minority government under the vision and leadership of a man who clearly doesn’t represent the values of most Canadians while the majority opposition parties are left scrambling.

To compare, the recent US election drew 64.1% of registered voters and EU countries have an average mean average voter turnout of 83%. It is no coincidence that most of the nations in Europe have proportional representational electoral systems.

Does this mean that average Canadians are losing faith in democracy or simply doesn’t care? Did they figure their votes wouldn’t make a difference and are largely apathetic? Did Elections Canada’s change in rules making it more difficult to vote to effect voter turnout? Did the media give ample coverage and notification that a federal election was under way?… Take your pick at pointing the finger, none of these nail down the greater problem of getting ripped off royally.

Our first-past-the-post system is largely to blame. Citizens are disgruntled with the lack of representation of their values and are not motivated to participate in an election where their ballot does not have any more value than the paper it is written on. Additionally, politicians and political parties are failing to effectively engage citizens who do not feel as if they are being properly represented in Parliament. FPP is an archaic system that is largely a popularity contest amongst candidates in their ridings. In a multi-party system, this often encourages strategic voting which was more apparent this election than ever before.

In most cases, voters are confused over which candidate has a better chance to eliminate the candidate (or party) that they least want to win. In other words, strategic voting is not effectively strategic and FPP is failing to democratically represent the citizens’ intentions.

A good example of this was seen in Saanich-Gulf Islands constituency in BC where incumbent MP, Gary Lunn, a contentious Conservative who was acting Minister of Natural Resources, squeeked into victory despite the dropping out of NDP candidate, Julian West, who’s name remained on the ballot and 3,667 voters still voted for (5.7% of the vote). Although the difference was over the .1% required for a recount, the margin needed to strategically oust him by voting Liberal was 2,625 votes — far less than those who voted for a party without a candidate.

The moral of the story here is that despite what 3rd party interest groups that were out in full force in this riding attempting to encourage voters to vote strategically failed to convince NDP supporters not to waste their votes (literally in this case). Voters should ALWAYS vote for the best candidate and party preference to represent their constituency and their interests.

Once elected, the political party in power (whether in a minority or majority) almost always dominates the direction of policy and spending with a top-down structure of implementation. The PM is not supposed to be presidential, like the US system, but is officially “Head of Government”. However, somehow these past elections have been based largely on leadership and not the platforms or policies and local issues of the riding it represents. The trend of stronger PMOs that has been on the rise for decades since the charismatic Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the strengthening of structure and responsibilities of PMO office under Brian Mulroney and later Jean Chretien. This further frustrates the representation of the voter and the conduct of parliament.

So who got ripped off? Nearly 51% of Canadians voted for a candidate that did not win a seat. So, most Canadian were “orphaned voters”.

Over 941,000 voters supported Elizabeth May and the Green Party and sent no one to Ottawa, setting a new record for the most votes cast for any party that gained no parliamentary representation. By comparison, 813,000  Conservative voters in Alberta alone were able to elect 27 MPs. In the prairies, Conservatives received roughly twice the vote of the Liberals and NDP, but took seven times as many seats. 

Like the previous election, a quarter-million Conservative voters in Toronto elected no one and neither did Conservative voters in Montreal and Vancouver. The NDP attracted 1.1 million more votes than the Bloc, but the voting system gave the Bloc 49 seats, the NDP 37. 

So, regional parties that would prefer separating from the country all together benefit the most from our current system.

Unless you are a Bloc supporter living in Quebec (the only province where they run), this rip off affects all stripes. Our system is failing to achieve a truly democratic and representational portrayal of our citizens.

So what’s the solution?…

1) On a federal level, a Mixed Member Proportional system would benefit the intentions of voters in Canada most fairly without needing to change the electoral boundaries.

2) For an effective and representative Senate, Single Transferable Vote system would benefit a badly needed change to our appointed and inefficient status quo

The result would be very few “orphan voters”, a more representational and democratic system, a more functional Parliament and greater participation from the electorate. 

We need to shift our electoral system more than ever. We can agree on that much, can’t we?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: