The silent ballot

By Louis Poirier

With a unified voice, 10 million Canadian voters asked for change by staying home and not voting. These silent voices know that their ballot won’t count and they refuse to vote just for sport. In this day and age, with our complex first-past-the-post system, you have to work very hard to make your vote count, you have to study the riding and find out who actually has a chance of winning. With only one vote, an average of five contestants competing for each seat and the total number of seats won decides who forms the government, the system is quite complicated.

The internet is constantly bringing us more information. This election, we had a number of web sites dedicated to vote swapping and strategic voting, all in an effort to let the average voter elect the government they want in this complex system. Despite their popularity, these sites only work for a small minority of the population. The originators of two of the most popular multi-partisan sites were invited on CBC Sunday only a few days before the election where they admitted that only about 45 to 50 ridings could be affected by strategic voting. All their polls and analysis suggested that the other 85 per cent of the ridings cannot be affected. Regardless of how one votes, the people in the ridings are so entrenched in their ways that they simply go through the motions.

This winner takes all system is also very polarizing, with the stakes so high in the swing ridings the candidates will say anything to vilify their opponents. This has led us to a lack of decorum that is continually circling the drain. It’s really astounding the level that politicians will sink to in order to demonize the opposition.

This system also leads to unrepresentative government. For example, Liberal voters in Alberta have not had a representative in Ottawa since Harper defeated Paul Martin.

This may be a cynical view and there are certainly more reasons to abstain from voting than simple frustration with the voting system, but correcting the system would go a long way to ensuring that everyone has their voice heard. The British Columbia single transferable vote system is up for referendum again in May and would allow all parties to be represented where they are supported. Further, such a system might encourage parties to work together for their constituents. With multiple representatives for each riding, it would hold the candidates more accountable to their constituents than their party, since a nomination would no longer assure a seat in the house.

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