"One day, son, our votes may count"
One of the things that distracts me from what I might otherwise be writing is the political situation in Canada.
I have always been a politically engaged sort of person. In recent years, however, even I have started to tune out from Federal and, to a lesser extent, Provincial politics. I have resigned myself to the fact that until there is a change to our electoral system that allows citizens' real choices to be reflected in parliament, my energy is best spent elsewhere. The energy I do manage to muster is directed to supporting and encouraging the efforts of the Green Party of Canada, the party most consistently supportive of reform, and Fair Vote Canada.
For the first time, electoral reform is getting some serious attention. Elizabeth May of the Green Party has embarked on her Save Democracy From Politics tour. Fair Vote Canada is building momentum, and has a growing list of notable and intelligent Canadian leaders behind it. This is good news, because fixing Canada's electoral system is THE core issue of our time, and our present system is preventing us from achieving our true potential as a "democratic" country.
The First-Past-the-Post system creates ridiculously distorted electoral results; I don't think anyone who actually looks at and SEES the numbers can dispute that. I think an even more insidious effect, however, is the effect on voter engagement. Voters, we are told, are becoming more and more disenchanted with politics. Obviously the behaviour of our elected officials can't help, but I think the bigger issue is the reality that voters face when they enter the polling booth in many ridings across Canada.
Take my riding, for example. I like where I live – it's convenient, close to public transportation and to Winnipeg's delightful Assiniboine Park. Come election time, however, I start scanning the renters guide, dreaming of moving to a riding where my vote might count. You see, here in Charleswood – St. James – Assiniboia, we elect Steven Fletcher of the Conservatives. That's just what we do, and there is frankly nothing any of us can do about it. It's like a Conservative Zombie Apocalypse – there are just too many of them. We're outnumbered.
The effect of this is that my vote does not count in the federal election, because my vote only counts in the race to elect one MP. Indeed, the votes of anyone voting for any other party in my riding are irrelevant in the election, and not by a small margin. In the last election, 57.6% voted for Mr. Fletcher; in 2008 it was 53.8%; in 2006 it was 47%. Indeed, the last election that was close was in 2004, where Mr Fletcher defeated former Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray by less than 2%. Even someone with perhaps the greatest name recognition in Winnipeg at the time could not stop the apocalypse.
Now, of course, the Conservative zombies are entitled to vote for whomever they choose; more power to them. But where does that leave the rest of us? Do we have no voice, no influence in Federal politics? And if we have no voice, no influence, why bother voting? We all lead busy lives. Why do something with no impact? I always vote; that's just me, having studied politics and being actively concerned about these things. Can I blame thoughtful and socially progressive people for not voting in my riding? I'm not sure how I would make the case to them TO vote.
And what do I tell my children when it comes time for them to be engaged in politics? Like many young people have discovered, I would have to tell them there are better ways to make an impact outside of the system. In our present system I would be lying to them to tell them that voting mattered. I'm not anxious to lie to my children.
If we really believe in democracy – a system where everyone's vote matters – then we have no choice but to implement some form of proportional representation. If we don't, I think it's time we stop kidding ourselves and find a new name for this system we have, because it isn't a democracy, and it certainly isn't representative.