Friday, June 6, 2014

Prideful Boasts of Non-Participation from Eligible Voters a Troubling Trend for Ontario, Canada

(originally published online as a comment to “Sudbury voters interested in P.C. message: Peroni”, published by the Sudbury Star, June 6, 2014). I’ve decided to publish this comment on my blog, because the issue I’ve discussed is one which is vitally important to me – and one which I continually worry about)


Thank you, Paula Peroni, for talking about a bit of a disturbing trend which has vocally emerged during this election campaign. We’ve known for a long while that fewer voters are casting their ballots, but what has emerged recently is that an increasing number of citizens are proudly proclaiming that they’ve opted out of our electoral system altogether, almost as if the voting has become a bit of a shameful act – or at the very least, non-participation has become a prideful one.

It’s a very troubling trend, and one that is going to prove hard to reverse moving forward. There are options available, however – but first, those whom we elect have to acknowledge that something has gone terribly wrong with our electoral system. And that’s certainly something that we haven’t been hearing about from any of the old-line parties during this election, despite the numerous media pieces on how the latest polls are now reporting results based on those deemed “likely” to vote. It’s clear that we’ve got a problem – why aren’t the PC’s, Liberals and NDP talking about a solution?

Some of the problem has to do with the idea that political parties and candidates simply aren’t discussing the issues which are important to voters. As political parties have moved to narrow-cast their messages, trading big-picture visionary ideas for retail buffet politics and PR, it’s no wonder that citizens feel that the parties aren’t speaking to them – because they’re not. They’re speaking largely to their base, trying to motivate that base to get out and vote. In our current electoral system, we can elect a majority government with just a small minority of votes. Canada did just that in 2011 when the Conservative Party came to power with a “strong, stable majority” of just 22% of the vote from all eligible voters. In Ontario, our current Liberal government received a mandate of less than 19% from eligible voters.

Paula Peroni suggests that part of the problem is also that many voters believe that they’re votes don’t really count. The reality is, she’s right – most votes don’t count. If you vote PC in Sudbury, your vote doesn’t matter – it’s not going to elect anybody. If you vote NDP in Nipissing, the same is true. In our first-past-the-post winner-take-all electoral system, we dis-incent public participation.

What if we had an electoral system in which every vote really did count? What if you knew, before going into the polling station, that your vote really would make a difference? Would that be something more likely to incent you to vote?

That’s what an electoral system of proportional representation would do – make every vote count. Make your vote matter, even if you don’t pick the winner. Most democracies use this form of election process – certainly, the political parties running in the Ontario election use this process themselves to elect their own leaders. Why, then, has it been left to the Green Party alone to be talking about making this change to our electoral system to better restore health to our ailing democratic processes? Where are the other parties on this?

We can’t continue to ignore this. We believe that by electing governments, the people have consented to give elected officials the right to govern. But can this remain the case when far too many of us are opting out of the process – and in doing so, proclaiming the legitimacy of non-participation? When people feel that they have not consented to be governed, what then? There may be general toleration for a while, but don’t count on its continuation.

When our governments (and those seeking to govern us) behave in anti-democratic ways, we ought not be surprised when the general population begins to lose faith in democracy. Canada is heading down a dangerous road. If we value democracy – and I believe that most of us profess to, including the vast majority of those who will not cast their ballots on Thursday – if we truly value democracy, we need to seriously look into how to make it work better for people. Because it’s pretty clear that it’s not working very well right now.

Good for Sudbury PC candidate Paula Peroni to bring this up in her interview with the Star.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

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