Why reform Canada’s electoral system?

When the Conservatives announced their budget on January 27th, it was a disappointment to those who wanted the government to lead us toward a green economy and future. The voices for environmental reform were no where loud enough or clear enough to mandate the Conservatives to consider the broader implications of their policies, and put Canadians and the environment first. Having a Green Party member sitting in the House of Commons would have made a marked difference, but because of our electoral system, the voices of Green supporters all over Canada are silenced in Ottawa.

On October 14th, 2008, Canadians sat down in front of their television to witness Steven Harper and his Conservatives win a consecutive minority government. Although the Greens were obviously disappointed with the results, the party gained a tremendous amount of ground.  6.8 percent of Canadians cast their ballot for the Green Party, nearly doubling the amount of votes received in the previous election. Yet despite the gain in the popular vote, the Greens still find themselves shut out of Ottawa. Not a single seat in the house of commons is warmed by a Green.

This discrepancy is a result of Canada’s First Past the Post (FTPT) system, a product of our British colonial past. Greens have long fought to reform this system, and here’s why.

The most obvious negative by product of FPTP is poor representation.  6.8 percent of the population do not feel as though they have a voice in government. Many people from Vancouver to St. John’s cast a Green ballot, but have a Conservative, or Liberal, or New Democrat occupying their seat. And with no mechanism to reserve a certain amount of seats for the popular vote, Green party members and supporters still find themselves on the outside looking in. Right here in Toronto-Danforth, the 13.2 percent of people who voted Green are left with nothing.

Secondly, the system perpetuates the two party dominant system because of defensive voting. For example, if a Green supporter living in a Liberal/Conservative battleground is in favour of a carbon tax, but knows the Conservatives will shut it down, she will cast their ballot for the Liberals only because they have the best chance of beating the Conservatives. Even though the Green Party also supports the carbon tax,  a Green vote is considered a de facto vote for the conservatives in this situation. Canadians often end up voting for the lesser of two evils.

Perhaps the most disconcerting byproduct of FPTP is voter disillusionment. For the 25 percent of Canadians who don’t support either of the two most powerful federal parties, elections can be a time of frustration and consequent apathy. When a Green voter living in the Conservation bastion Calgary casts her ballot, she knows there’s little hope of political hopes being realized. As already mentioned, she may decide to cast her vote defensively and throw her support to the Liberals. Or, she may simply decide to stay home and not vote at all. What’s the point? Her vote goes unanswered.

Voter disillusionment is becoming a plaguing trend in our country. Statistics Canada reports that voter turnout in October was a mere 59.1 percent, the lowest it has been since Confederation. Many attribute this to the lackluster campaigns, or to the distraction of the American election. But we should also point our fingers at a system that doesn’t recognize a large minority of its voters. FPTP discourages political participation.

This all leads to low support, not only for the current government, but for the system as a whole. Canadians are feeling as though they system has somehow cheated them, and that democracy has failed.

How do we solve this problem? Fortunately, there are other systems that allow for both regional and proportional representation. In B.C. a number of years ago, and more recently in Ontario with the 2007 provincial election, referendums have been held proposing an alternative system. Due to lack of public understanding however, efforts to create better representation have failed.

But alternative electoral systems are both simple and fair.   If Canada abandoned the undemocratic FPTP, and adopted a new way, Greens would finally have their voice heard in Ottawa.

Electoral reform is not only important for the betterment of the environment, the economy and many other issues, but it’s a core feature of democracy. Citizens from coast to coast are being denied their right to heard in the nation’s capital.  It’s time to abandon the old system, and move toward inclusivity.

One response to “Why reform Canada’s electoral system?”

  1. Antony Hodgson writes:

    Achieving electoral reform is a strong possibility in BC with a referendum coming up very quickly on May 12th. If you value electoral fairness, please do all you can to support the recommendation of the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. We won a strong majority of 58% last time – help us get that last 2%! If you can help call voters, distribute lawn signs, write letters, contribute money, stage events, or many other things, please contact us via our website – stv.ca.

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