Canada's "New" Government Begs the Question: How Representative is Democracy?


This past Thursday, Ontarians voted in a Liberal government for the third time in a row. 

But wait, this isn’t even the shocker. The voter turnout of 49.2% stands as the absolute worst turnout stretching back to Confederation in 1867. To make matters even worse, if we do “representation math” we see even more alarming numbers. The winning party secured 37.62% of the popular vote, which is actually 37.62% of the number of ballots cast, not of the population. Ergo, Ontario will now be directed by effectively 18.5% of the population. It is difficult for anyone outside of the Liberal party to feel represented. To preserve democracy, reforms must be enacted. These reforms have to target both the electoral process as well as the representation system.

There are many viewpoints as to why voter turnout is on the decline in Canada and around the world. “Dirty campaigns” turn voters away, social media has connected and informed people about global issues at the expense of domestic issues, general apathy, lack of advertisement and education on how voting works, and of course a broken system that does not equate popular support with proportional representation in the people's chambers.

In a previous PolicyMic article, I tackled the issue of voter apathy. Lack of proportional representation directly contributes to this apathy. Electoral systems can normally be divided into two categories; first-past-the-post and proportional representation. First-past-the-post gives seats based on who got the most votes on a district basis; it treats the popular vote as something more than a statistic. A proportional representation system does the opposite. It awards seats based on the percentage of the vote earned. If there are 100 seats and one party wins 37% of the vote, they earn 37 seats. 

The need for provinces like Ontario to switch to a proportional representation system was demonstrated on Thursday. The Liberal Party, who won an extra 2.19% of the popular vote over the Progressive Conservative Party, received an extra 16 seats. This is not fair as there are not enough seats in Queen’s Park (107) to award 16 seats on a 2.19% of the vote basis. Further, the Green Party who earned 2.93% of the vote received no seats. Even though they received modest support, that support was not concentrated anywhere to win a seat.

When voters see that their voice does not equate representation, they feel less motivated to vote. 

There is another aspect of the electoral process that is not well advertised by governments: the act of declining or spoiling ones ballot. What most voters do not know is that a declined or spoiled ballot is still recorded by electoral officials. Imagine the legal conundrum if 50.8% of voters said “none of these options are good."

For us to reclaim democracy, we need to reform the system so that one vote represents one voice, and we should simultaneously continue to improve the education available on the electoral process.

Photo Credit: Rob Boudon