One of the main reasons I entered politics is because I am very concerned about the decline of democracy in Canada. There are numerous policy areas which the NDP is fighting to improve—such as health care, pensions, environment, and education—but for me citizen participation in decision-making is the foundation on which all other policy decisions rest.
Canadian democracy is in trouble.
The most obvious indicator of this comes from voter turnout statistics. In the early 1960s, almost 80 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. However, voter turnout has been on the decline since—dropping to less than 70 percent in 1993 and reaching an all-time low of 59 percent in 2008. Turnout is especially bad in my riding of Burnaby-Douglas where only 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
Voter turnout is lowest among our youngest citizens. Elections Canada estimates only 37 percent of those aged 18-24 cast ballots. This is especially problematic as voting is learned behavior and failing to vote at an early age can lead to a lifetime of non-participation. Unfortunately, all signs point to further turnout declines.
Even when Canadians do vote, Parliament does not reflect their wishes. According to Fair Vote Canada, Conservatives received roughly twice the votes of the Liberals and NDP combined in the Prairie provinces, but took seven times as many seats. A quarter-million Conservative voters in Toronto elected no one and neither did Conservative voters in Montreal.
In addition Canadians are virtually shut of politics between elections. It is almost impossible for the public to have any input into the federal policy making process. This is not helped by the closed-door policies of the Stephen Harper Conservative government. After promising Senate reform, Harper stacked the Senate. The Liberals are no better on this issue. Although keen to bring up the idea of a “democratic deficit”, the Liberals have no policy on this issue and always fight to maintain the status quo.
I am running for Jack Layton’s New Democrats because NDP is the only party to take democratic reform seriously. In addition to abolishing the unelected Senate, we pledge to fight to make Canada’s unfair first-past-the-post electoral system more proportional. This is an issue I have worked on for many years, including sitting as an academic advisor on the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.
I have also tried to use new techniques to engage young people and students during this campaign. While many people say young people do not care about politics, I think they do care and have a lot to say. This election I have been hosting a video speakers’ corner at SFU where students express their concerns. We have a camera set up, and post students’ clips on our website, as well as the clips they send us if they can’t make it to campus. We have to find new ways to engage youth, not just dump on them for not voting.
Canadian democracy is in trouble. We can see this in declining turnouts, negative TV attack ads, and how Canadians are shut out of the policy making between elections. Only the NDP has a plan to make democracy better. Join me and we’ll work together to make things better.
On a final note, our campaign team is deeply saddened by the sudden passing of our great friend Tom Cameron-Fawkes. A communicator, activist, and strong believer in democracy, Tom was working with us to help keep Burnaby-Douglas NDP. Tom’s sharp wit and fantastic sense of humour will be greatly missed. We send our sympathy to his loving wife Deb and the rest of Tom’s family.
Kennedy Stewart is the NDP candidate for Burnaby-Douglas.