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Our democracy is dumb (but vote anyway)

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Trevor J. Adams, Photo: Tammy Fancy

Trevor J. Adams, Photo: Tammy Fancy

Your family is ordering takeout. You want pizza. Your spouse wants Chinese food. Your eldest daughter would like a hamburger. The next daughter wants pizza. Your son declines to eat at all. So, you tally the votes and do the only logical thing: you get pizza.

Sure, 40 per cent of your family just made a big choice that affects you all, and you’re ignoring the wishes of your spouse and oldest daughter, and it’s kind of troubling that your son isn’t eating, but they made their choices and pizza won. That’s how democracy works, right?

That’s more or less the logic Canada will use to elect a new federal government on October 19. In almost every riding, the winning candidate won’t have the support of the majority of voters, let alone the majority of citizens. In the last election, Canada’s voter-turnout rate was just 61.1 per cent. And because of our first-past-the-post riding-based system, most MPs will win with about 40-percent support (that’s of the two-thirds of eligible voters who cast ballots to begin with).

That means our election results almost never reflect the true will of the people. In the 2011 election, the Conservatives took just 39.6 per cent of the popular vote, but 53.9 per cent of the seats in the House of the Commons. The Liberals got 18.9 per cent of the popular vote, but just 11 per cent of seats. (Bear in mind, however, that the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP have all suffered at some times and benefited at others thanks to this whacky system).

It doesn’t have to be this way. Like Canada, New Zealand has its roots in the British system, but it has evolved a mixed-member proportional representation system. New Zealand now elects its government based on both a geographic riding system (as we do now) and by party list, with seats divvied amongst the parties based on their share of the popular vote. This is just one option; you can find alternatives to our system in healthy democracies around the world.

Even though our system is unfair, you must vote. Staying home is a vote for the status quo. None of the major parties are loudly trumpeting for electoral reform, so take the time to find out your candidates’ positions. If you want to see a fairer democracy, where your vote really counts, tell them so. Vote for the candidates who share your view. If enough candidates hear that this issue is important to you, we’ll eventually see change.

Usually when I talk about this sort of thing, I hear, “our current system is fair enough, why go through the hassle of changing it?” Consider this: until 1918, women couldn’t vote in Canada. For 50 years, only men elected this country’s governments.

And lots of people thought that was democratic and fair enough, too.

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