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Does government represent you and use your money effectively and efficiently?
In its Voter Rights Campaign, Democracy Watch is tackling these two PR issues, parliamentary reform to increase citizen participation and government accountability for spending the public's money, and proportional representation to increase the representativeness of the federal Parliament.
Several ethics, spending, secrecy and hiring scandals over the past few years have revealed just how ineffective the current system is to ensure that rules are followed, and that those who break rules are held accountable.
In addition, surveys conducted over the past decade by Ekos Research Associates Inc., on behalf of the federal government, have consistently found that:
In addition, Canada has an electoral system that consistently misrepresents the Canadian public and denies Canadians the right to have their vote count! The system at the federal level, and in all the provinces, is based on the British model known as first past the post (FPTP).
Under this system Canada is divided into a number of single-member voting districts (also known as "ridings"). At the federal level, there are currently 301 seats in the House of Commons (the elected house of Parliament), and various numbers of seats in each provincial legislature.
In an election, the candidate who gets the largest number of votes in each of these districts wins the election, and a seat in either Parliament (at the federal level) or in the provincial legislature.
Unfortunately, this system can lead to some very surprising, and fundamentally undemocratic, results! The main criticism of the FPTP voting system is that a candidate does not necessarily need to win a majority of the votes to win the seat, and usually, if there are 3 or more candidates in the district, the winning candidate does not win a majority of the votes. As a result, often political parties in Canada win a majority of seats in an election and form the government and have all the power (because the party controls a majority of seats in the legislature), even though the party only won the support of a minority of voters.
Other common criticisms of the FPTP voting system are that it effectively denies smaller parties fair representation in the legislature, it exaggerates the support of larger parties, and it exaggerates the support of parties that have support only in one province or region of Canada.
In addition, it often forces voters to vote for their 2nd choice candidate in order to ensure that a candidate they definitely don't like loses. For example, imagine if a voter has 3 candidates to choose from in his/her district in an election, from political parties A, B, and C, and the voter wants to vote for the candidate from party A. If the promises and platforms of parties A and B are more similar than then platform of party C, then voters that vote for the candidates from parties A and B may split the vote (for example, 31% for the party A candidate, 33% for party B), allowing the candidate for party C to win the election with support from only 36% of the voters. The voter can only help prevent party C from winning by voting for his/her 2nd choice, the candidate from party B.
A study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy released in July 2000 found that 49% of Canadians find the current voting system unacceptable, compared to 23% who favour the current system.
A survey conducted in late 2001 by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada found that 37% of eligible voters who did not vote in the November 2000 federal election did not vote because they felt that their vote would have no effect and they did not like the choices of candidates and parties.
As an appointed body, the federal Senate of Canada of course presents a different problem for Canadian voters. Unelected, unaccountable, and sometimes simply unworthy of the appointment, Senators have more policy-making power than they usually acknowledge, and are less representative than they usually claim.
When the federal government finally tackles the key issue
of changing our voting system to ensure a more accurate
representation of the popular vote and regional interests
in the federal Parliament, turning the Senate into an
elected body (or abolishing it altogether) is one of the
key changes to be made.
The pressure is increasing on the federal government to clean-up the ethics, spending, access-to-information, and hiring systems to prevent more scandalous behaviour by politicians, public servants and lobbyists.
The pressure is also increasing on Canadian governments to change Canada's voting system, and at the federal level either to change the Senate from an appointed body into an elected body, or to abolish the Senate.
In B.C., the now-ruling Liberal Party held a consultation process on changing the voting system, and held a referendum on the issue in May 2005 (the same time as the provincial election). In Ontario, the now ruling Liberal Party held a similar consultation process and referendum on changing the voting system. The governments of Québec and Prince Edward Island have also undertaken reviews of their voting systems.
As with many other policy innovations in the history of Canada, change to a democratic voting system will likely occur in a province or several provinces first, before the federal government finally responds to the widespread call for change.
Concerning public consultation by the federal government, the federal House of Commons Industry Committee recommended in a June 2001 report that the government should create a well-publicized website that contains all key information about all current, past, and planned consultations. The federal government has drafted guidelines for all federal institutions that would essentially require meaningful consultation with citizens whenever government changes a law, regulation, policy, guideline or program. The government is currently considering how to implement and enforce the guidelines.
As a result, the pressure is also increasing on governments to consult with citizens in a meaningful way, especially on issues of broad public concern.
During the 2006 election campaign, the Conservatives promised that if they won they would pass an "Accountability Act" containing 52 measures to clean up the federal government's accountability system, as well as implement 5 other democratic reforms. When the Act was introduced, however, it only contained 30 measures and weakened key ethics rules (To see details about the 30 measures, click here, -- To see details about the Conservatives' broken promises, click here).
Write your Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, the NDP, and your own MP (See addresses below). Please send a copy of your letter and any response to Democracy Watch.
In your letter urge the government to make government accountability watchdogs more effective, and make government more responsive and representative of the public, by enacting the following measures:
SEND YOUR LETTER BY MAIL calling for passage of a
federal "honesty in politics" law to:
House of Commons
OR send your letter by email to all the federal
party leaders at:
OR send your letter by fax or email individually
Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae
NDP Thomas Mulcair
AND, finally, please send a copy of your letter by email to Democracy Watch at: <email@example.com>
Thank you for participating in our DemocratizACTION Network
Democracy Watch's Voter Rights Campaign
April 17, 2012
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