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, the Liberals, NDP and Greens have made it an election issue.
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 Wolf Depner, a political science professor at the University of B.C. Okanagan.
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“A lot of people find our system to be antiquated, outdated and no longer in touch with modern realities…but the thing is, generally parties that talk about electoral reform are the parties not in power.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 proportional representation 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.