Does your vote count? It’s a question often lamented in the lead up to Canadian elections, and an increasingly high number of people claim it doesn’t.
The current first-past-the-post electoral system, say critics, doesn’t reflect the interests of voters and discourages further political engagement. There are always rumblings about electoral reform, but this year three of the four federal parties have made it an election issue.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau started the conversation in June when he said he’d change the way parliamentarians are elected, if the Liberals were voted in Oct. 19. First he will convene an all-party committee to study the options, then enact some replacement for the current first-past-the-post system within 18 months of being sworn in.
While all options will be examined, Liberals have said they lean toward a system with ranked ballots, where second choices are counted in.
The NDP has long championed similar intentions toward electoral reform, focusing instead on mixed-member proportional representation (PR), where every elector gets two votes, one for a local MP, another for a party list.
The Conservative Party supports the winner-take-all-system that’s currently in place. It, in the last election, had them win 54 per cent of the seats in the House with just 39 per cent of the popular vote.
While an appetite for change at the top tier of Canada’s political scene may be new, talks about electoral reform aren’t.
Between 2005 and 2009 there were referendums in Prince Edward Island, Ontario and twice in B.C., yet the status quo in all those places prevailed, said political scientist Wolf Depner.
The public appetite for change hasn’t been there, he said.
Depner also has doubts that the political will for change will persist if the parties now advocating for it are elected.
“Electoral reform is one of these issues in Canadian politics that pops up every once in awhile,“ Depner said.
“A lot of people find our system to be antiquated, outdated and no longer in touch with modern realities…but the thing is, generally parties that talk about electoral reform are the parties not in power.
“Once they find themselves in power, they find the value in the system as it is.”
The Conservatives before they were in their current form, he pointed out, talked about it before they were elected.
If the issue gets lost in the shuffle, said Depner, it will be a bit of a shame, as voter engagement seemingly increases in western democracies that use some form of proportional representation.
In Germany, for example, voter engagement was around 70 per cent in the 2011 election.
During the 2011 election, Canada’s voter turnout sat at around 61 per cent. Voters, he said, find their voices are better represented in a proportional system .
Proportional representation is designed to produce a representative body (like a parliament, legislature, or council) where the voters are represented in that body in proportion to how they voted.
Our current voting system elects only one MP in each riding. When more than two candidates run in an election, MPs can be elected with less than half of the votes in the riding. The other half of the voters are unrepresented.
In contrast, a PR voting system elects several MPs to represent a given geographic region so that most voters in that region have a voice in Parliament.
With that system, Depner said that coalition building is also more common.
“Parties rarely win an outright majority. Coalitions in countries that use a proportional system are the norm, not the exception,” he said.
“And proportional systems are part and parcel of a more consensus-oriented form of democracy and governance, while first-past-the-post systems tend to be common in democracies that emphasize conflict and competition.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t differences, they’re just expressed in a more muted fashion as agreement is the desired outcome.
Fair Votes Canada lobbies for electoral reform and they’ve contacted every Canadian candidate about the issue — while Independent Brian Gray was not asked, Conservative Marshall Neufeld did not provide an answer. However, both, responded to the Western News request.
The group posed this question to all the candidates: If you were to summarize your current views on proportional representation in one or two sentences, how would you express it?
Richard Cannings, NDP
I believe that proportional representation will not only make Canadian elections fairer, in that the representation in Parliament would match the proportion of votes cast for each party, but it would result in a more collaborative and cooperative culture in Parliament itself. Both these factors would lower the level of cynicism in this country so that more people would become directly involved in the political life of the country and actually get out and vote.
Connie Denesiuk, Liberal
I believe that the current system doesn’t serve our country well. Much of the cynicism among our voters is due to a sense that their vote doesn’t count and their voice isn’t heard. The current system promotes polarization and a lack of consensus in the country.
Brian Gray, Independent
I am in favour of some type of electoral reform. There are other countries around the world that practice various models of proportional government and it would seem logical to me that we should analyze these existing systems and adopt or adapt the best working model.
Marshall Neufeld, Conservative
Canadians deserve a say when it comes to changes made to our electoral system, and they have made it clear in numerous referendums that they are opposed to the idea of proportional representation. I support the current system that ensures Members of Parliament have had to put their name on a ballot and stand up to public scrutiny and I believe in responsible government and will continue to support our current system, however both the NDP and Liberals plan to carry out electoral reform without giving Canadians a voice in the matter.
Samantha Troy, Green Party
The FPTP system of electing our government is antiquated and broken. A system which allows a minority of the votes to determine a governing majority who ultimately only govern for the benefit of their chosen elite is wrong. Canadians have lost confidence that their voices are heard. I am committed to implementing a form of Proportional Representation which will allow Canadians back their voice.