Lowest voter turnout ever reignites calls for proportional representation
On Wednesday (October 15), the day after the federal election, Fair Vote Canada’s phone was ringing away. But for the weeks before then: silence.
Larry Gordon, the executive director of the Toronto-based group that lobbies for proportional representation in government, said that there’s a renewed vigour for democratic reform in Canada. After Ontario’s pro-rep referendum fizzled in October 2007, Gordon told the Straight on the phone from the riding of Beaches-East York that the mainstream media “relegated voting reform to the dead story file”.
But buzzing from coffee overload last night, Gordon was jubilant to see hundreds of comments on the CBC Web site chirping about proportional representation.
“Last night we set two records,” he said. “First, it was the worst voter turnout in history. Second, a political party got the highest number of votes without sending anyone to Parliament.”
That, of course, was the Green party. Gordon believes that part of the reason for the low voter turnout is a general “anger and frustration at the gut level with the political system”, and feeling that one’s vote doesn’t count.
The breakdown of the vote, according to Elections Canada:
- The Green party got 6.8 percent of the votes, and no seats.
- The Bloc Québécois got 10 percent of the votes, but 16.2 percent of the seats.
- The NDP got 18.2 percent of the votes, but 12 percent of the seats.
- The Liberals got 26.2 percent of the votes, but 24.7 percent of the seats.
- The Conservatives got 37.6 percent of the votes, but 46.4 percent of the seats.
In other words, the Bloc and the Conservatives were the big winners, and everyone else, losers.
Gordon commended B.C. premier Gordon Campbell for being the first politician in any democracy to recognize that it is a conflict of interest for a ruling party to decide on how people vote. But he also noted that, when British Columbians voted in a referendum on a single transferable vote system in 2005, Campbell “rigged” the results by demanding that 60 percent agree. The referendum got 57.7 percent support. It lost.
On the May 2009 provincial ballot, there will be another proportional rep question.
“Sometimes we think, ”˜My God, this will never happen,’” he said. “But they tried to stop women from getting the vote. They tried to halt the franchise to all citizens. The year before it [women’s suffrage] passed in Ontario, it was literally laughed at and jeered at.”
Gordon admits that proportional rep could cost the big parties their popularity. Without strategic voting, citizens could choose parties without compromising, so the big winners, he figures, would be the Greens and the NDPers.
Given that Fair Vote Canada has a staff of one, Gordon, and none of its affiliated provincial organizations have paid staff, the buzz around proportional rep is pretty remarkable. That’s why, Gordon said, it’s time for citizens to take up the flag.
“You don’t get democratic reform by holding your breath or saying, ”˜Ain’t that terrible,’” he said. “When the light bulb goes off and you realize how important this issue is, it’s not enough to say, ”˜Oh yes, we should have reform.’ You must join Fair Vote Canada. Make a modest donation. Donate your time.”