Thoughts on the Canadian Election

On Monday May 2nd 2011, Canada held it’s forty first federal election, resulting in a Conservative majority, and for the first in Canadian history, the NDP as the official opposition. I’d like to share my personal thoughts on the results of the election including the low voter turnout, un-proportional representation and the resulting Harper majority.

Low Voter Turnout
I was rather appalled when I learned that the 2008 election had the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history, thus I launched the I Vote Because… map to create a conversation around why voting is important. My site wasn’t the only one, others launched their own campaigns to encourage voting like Apathy Is Boring, the Great Canadian Blank Ballot Project and the Vote Mob movement which mobilized youth across the country.

As a result, this election did have a higher turnout that the previous, yet still only 61.4% voted. That means that six out of ten Canadians decided the fate for the rest of the country.

Why do we have such a low voter turnout in Canada? What can be done to engage a higher percentage of the public to vote?

Un-Proportional Representation
This election clearly demonstrated, that Canada’s voting system does not work well with a multi-partied government. Due to vote splitting between the Liberal and NDP parties, the Conservatives secured a majority government of 167 seats with only 39.6% of the popular vote. Some would argue that this is the way it’s always been done, but as others have pointed out, ‘previously broken is still broken’.

I believe it’s time to rethink our voting system, examining other proportional representation options like the alternative vote or perhaps the German voting system.

Would people be more inclined to vote, if they felt their voice was more fairly represented in Ottawa? Would we see an increased level of civic engagement because citizens felt more ownership in their government?

Harper Majority
Throughout the first part of election campaign, I remained fairly quiet mostly observing the message from each party. However, in the week leading to the election I became worried of the potential for a Harper majority, and what that could mean for democracy in Canada. Just to be clear, I have nothing against the Conservative party, although my personal views tend to align more with NDP and support for social programs, but I also believe the Conservative’s goal to build a strong economy is important.

What I do find troubling, is Harper’s heavy-handed approach to controlling the government by silencing those that oppose him. What may seem like isolated incidents, upon taking a step back and examining them as a whole, can be rather alarming and as some have argued, an attack on democracy. Massive deregulation that jeopardizes the safety of Canadians, including firing researchers that warned of nuclear safety hazards and pesticides on foods. Four times Harper’s tried to pass a mass scale internet surveillance law. During the G20 summit, imposed emergency law to arrest protestors without reason, (over 1100 arrested yet only 99 charges were laid, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history). Massive cuts and imposed limitations on scientists at Environment Canada crippling media coverage of climate change by 80%. Budget cuts to national broadcasting with rumored plans to launch a pro-Harper news network. Additional funding and expanding prisons across the country. Twice has shut down parliament simply to avoid a non-confidence vote. And finally removing a teen from a Conservative rally because she had posted a photo with an opposing leader on her Facebook page.

Regardless of your political view controlling the media, silencing opposition, cutting researchers, mass surveillance of the public, arresting those that speak out with an increased prison system should raise some serious alarm bells. The question I’ve been struggling with, is whether Harper supporters were aware of these facts prior to voting.

Note, this has all been accomplished with a minority government, what will the next four years bring with a Harper majority that doesn’t need approval? How will Canada be reshaped under this new government?