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Vote or don't!

You, me, and the dude down the street all hate the government. Hate may be too strong a word, but no one really likes (or trusts) any level of government. No surprise there. What can be done about this?

Luckily people are working at ways to ensure the democracy lives on in Canada. On Tuesday night a few organizations held a Public Forum on a Fair Voting System. They spoke of STV (that's a V not a D) and MMP versus the first past the post system we currently have. If you don't know what any of that means you may want to read more because electoral reform is gaining support across the country and Toronto, youth and minorities need it.

The panel of speakers included Dennis Pilon from Fair Vote Canada, Steve Withers an election activist from New Zealand, Judy Rebick from Ryerson University, and Marilyn Churley the Ontario NDP critic for democratic renewal. After the event (and at the end of this article) I sat down with Marilyn to see how youth, minorities and Toronto can benefit directly from a new election system.

When Marilyn Churley spoke in front of the audience she talked primarily about all the things the NDP are doing to promote better representation in the electoral system. Essentially the provincial NDP are asking a lot of things and the Liberals are giving into some, if not most. This came as no surprise either. When you look at the facts we are currently years away from a representation by population electoral system provincially, let alone federally.

Representation by population comes in primarily two ways: Single Transferable Vote and Mixed Member of Parliament. In Canada we have a first past the post system which means that whoever got the most votes wins, so if two parties got 30% each and one got 40% it means that the party with 40% wins - even though no true majority ever existed.

Steve Withers who helped to promote electoral change in New Zealand said that Canada has a long way to go. He commented that "New Zealand isn't finished" in their transition to rep by pop. In terms of Canada his main concern with the first past the post system we have now is that it provides no alternative for voters. People are scared of the far left and right and so they always tend to compromise. A good example of this is the last federal election.

He provided the audience with some statistics (which he said too fast to copy them down) that provided evidence that rep by pop promotes more involvement in politics. His primary examples were the Maori and that there are less old white men sitting in power. He also notes that more parties have come to existence, or gained more status like the Green Party has.

With rep by pop "voters can pick all the pretty colours on the side." This statement made him wonder that "maybe one of those can become the primary colour." I think this is a good enough reason for rep by pop because I'm growing tired of always seeing Liberal red. Denis Pilon agrees that competition among the parties will become more intense.

Pilon argues that rep by pop would ensure that parties are more responsive to the people because there is a direct connection between how many people support the party and how much power the party gets. With Canada's current system he points out that parties tend to shoot for the middle, and that's the party that wins. He is quick to point out that in many cases the ruling party never got a majority of the votes and other parties fail to get a respectful number of seats.

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Another point that was brought up by members of the audience is that some areas of Canada with a small population have better representation than more populated regions. The Maritimes has more MPs than they know what to do with and this negatively affects the representation of the rest of the country.

The consensus in the room was obviously that the current system has failed.

And people still wonder why the youth turnout is low and voter "apathy" is high.

I asked Marilyn Churley if rep by pop will help combat youth apathy. When she was in university, and for a few years afterwards, she couldn't care what any politician did. Why should she since she never saw a politician affect her in anyway? She thinks that the low youth voter-turnout is not that big of a deal, but it does need to be confronted.

Churley thinks that youth, minorities, and other disenfranchised people will become more engaged in politics thanks to a rep by pop system. She notes that in New Zealand minorities are now better represented and attributes this to the fact that one person's views really do equate to a vote. Helping out on a political campaign empowers the individual and their cause.

Youth concerns can be better voiced under rep by pop, but there is no magic pill. Churley wants us to be aware of the fact that no system is perfect; though the system we have now is not working.

Toronto will also gain from rep by pop. Since Toronto has so many people living in it the city would need more MPs and MPPs to represent it. This just makes sense.

As keen as the panelists were on rep by pop it is still only in its infancy in Canada. Without the help of people to get the issue out there we will be stuck with our seemingly-archaic first past the post system.

If you care about rep by pop you may want to start by looking into fairvote.ca

Of course if you don't care or like the system the way it is, just give your tacit consent to the status quo. Perhaps write your MP/MPP telling them that the way elections are run now are a-OK.


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