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“A lot of people find our system to be antiquated, outdated and no longer in touch with modern realities…but the thing is, generally parties that talk about electoral reform are the parties not in power.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.
There are three main families of PR voting systems:
PR list—multiple candidates are elected through allocations to an electoral list. They can also be used as part of mixed additional member systems.
Mixed Systems—usually a mixture of PR List with a majority rules voting system such as our current system. The most common form is known as MMP for mixed member proportional. This version is used in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. Both the MMP and Jenkins models are forms of mixed systems.
STV (single transferable vote)—ranked transferable ballots within multi-member ridings. This has been used for more than 100 years in Ireland, Tasmania and the Australian Senate.
••• What Okanagan candidates say•••
Fair Votes Canada lobbies for electoral reform and they’ve contacted every Canadian candidate about the issue.
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?
The responses from the Central Okanagan candidates are as follows:
Robert Mellalieu, Green Party
Canada is one of a handful of countries that still use the first-past-the-post system. Canada used to be a world leader and admired by other countries. We must arrest our current decline and changing the way we vote will be a step towards our comeback
Angelique Wood, NDP
New Democrats are committed to making 2015 the last unfair election and we have put forward a clear plan to ensure that 2019 is the first election conducted under a mixed-member proportional voting system.
Karley Scott, Liberal
The assurance that your vote counts is fundamental to democratic health and engagement. Unfortunately, many Canadians feel that their vote is wasted. In the last election less than 40 per cent of the votes translated to a government with all the power. This doesn’t take into account that many Canadians do not vote at all. I wholeheartedly support electoral reform and a system where no one has a wasted vote.
Dan Albas, Conservative
Kelowna Lake Country
Stephen Fuhr, Liberal
I agree that any solution to democratic reform in Canada should include an element of proportionality and I will advocate for such if I am elected.
Norah Bowman, NDP
I support proportional representation. The NDP will implement mixed-member proportional representation in time for the next election.
Ron Cannan, Conservative