Strengthening Canadian Democracy Essay, Research Paper
Political Science 104
April 2, 2001
Strengthening Canadian Democracy
The views of Canadians
In the report by Paul Howe and David Northrup titled, “Strengthening Canadian Democracy: the Views of Canadians” Policy Matters 1:5, Canadians attitudes towards government including questions about electoral system reform, representation and the rate of veter turnout.(Howe & Northrup, 2000) After reading, this report it is clear that many Canadians find many issues of their government to be unacceptable. One of the most menacing concerns is in the form that government attains office. The voting process, the form in which Canadians are represented by their Members of Parliament, and the first past the post method of election.
The debate about electoral reform is not a new issue it has been discussed for quite some time, but with the recent studies, “Concerns about the relationship between a party’s share of the popular vote in an election and the number of seats it receives”(Howe & Northrup, 2000) has been given more attention. The first past the post system has continually elected governments that display grossly unfair party representation. “The most dramatic evidence was provided by the Progressive Conservatives, who captured 16% of the national popular vote but only won 2 seats (0.7%) in the House of Commons…In Quebec, the sovereigntist voice of the Bloc Quebecois was amplified…when 49.2% of the vote garnered 72% of the provincial seats for the Bloc…”(Braving the New World p.177).
Howe and Northrup pointed this out to Canadians during a survey, asking if they felt that this was acceptable or unacceptable. When there results were compared to the same survey taken ten years ago, the results showed some very important shifts in Canadian’s opinions.
Canadians have shown an increase in their disapproval of this electoral system, as well as an increase in those who have voiced an opinion. The evidence presented shows that over half (63 %) of Canadians with an opinion on the electoral system in place, feel it is unacceptable. However, when asked if they were satisfied with the electoral system in place in Canada, the results showed that an overwhelming seventy-two per cent were satisfied with the first-past-the-post system. Canadian’s feeling of unacceptability towards the present electoral system, should be enough of a concern to at least make a consideration of reform.
The electoral system in Canada directly correlates with the type of representation that Canadians receive. More specifically the representation that women and visible minorities receive in parliament. “Women, visible minorities, and Aboriginal peoples continue to be significantly under-represented in the ranks of elected politicians at all levels of government.”(Howe & Northrup, 2000) It is obvious that sufficient representation by government means that everyone in Canada must be represented. There has been an increase for females elected to parliament, however it is subtle. In comparison to other countries, Canada is in the middle, ranked 29th worldwide, in this area. (Howe & Northrup, 2000) Canadians do feel that something should be done to even the playing field by choosing as many female representatives as they do males, much like the Reforms taking place in France. Measures have been taken to rectify this situation, with Bill C-2. This Bill suggested that parties with at least 20 per cent female MPs would be granted a larger amount of reimbursement for their election expenses, and an even larger refund for those parties with 30 per cent female MPs. (Howe & Northrup, 2000) Canadians support the idea that parties should be required to increase the amount of female candidates.
Visible minorities are also under-represented by government. In 1997, visible minorities accounted for little over 6 per cent of Members of Parliament. An increase from 1993 when this group made up 4.4 per cent, and 1.7 per cent in 1988. (Howe & Northrup, 2000) With visible minorities making up 11 per cent of the population, the under-representation of visible minorities is as serious as that of Canadian women. However only 35 per cent of Canadians feel that this is a problem, but almost half feel that parties should be required to elect more visible minority candidates. (Howe & Northrup, 2000)
Canada’s Aboriginal people are a group that has been grossly under-represented by government throughout Canadian history. “As the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples reported, of the approximately 11 000 MPs elected since Confederation, only 13 have been self- identified as Aboriginal.” (Howe & Northrup, 2000) The Lortie Commission’s proposal to this problem was to set aside seats in the House, specifically for Aboriginal representatives. A solid majority of Canadians (57 percent)” (Howe & Northrup, 2000) thought that was a good solution for this obvious problematic mis-representation.
This evidence shows that the representation that all of Canada’s minority groups receive a disproportionate amount of representation in Parliament when compared to the rest of Canada. It is also clear that most Canadians feel that something should be done to allow and ensure that the House of Commons is more diversified.
Voter turnout in Canada is also at the forefront of Canadian democracy. Many Canadians feel that democracy does not serve its purpose if it is not being used to serve the whole of a country. “In the 1997 federal election, only 67 per cent of registered voters cast a ballot, the lowest figure in a federal election since 1925.” (Howe & Northrup, 2000) Canadians feel that there are many reasons for this. Many non- voters believe there is simply a lack of choice on the ballot and that all parties are much the same.
The plurality system has often been said to discourage voter turnout because of lack of “real” choice, and has turned people off politics. A good solution to this problem would be introducing the proportional representation (PR) system of voting. Offering more choices and the power to have those votes count would increase voter turnout to where it should be. This would also introduce a multi-partied government, which would ensure parliament represented all of the perspectives throughout the electorate. A better representation of Canadians in legislature would spawn new ideas and attitudes into parliament, which would benefit everyone.
Many politicians whom favor the plurality system argue that proportional representation provides too much opportunity for a minority government to form because more parties get seats in the House. The plurality system is thought by its advocates to increase the chance of a majority government, which is important to the process of governing. However Canada has had minority governments formed 6 times since 1962 and they have all been just as effective as the majority governments Canada has since that time.
Proportional representation has a good reputation around the world and has been implemented in many countries. Most of these other governments are run by coalitions which some fear lead to a weak, unproductive government. Eventhough these countries have enjoyed stable coalition governments and in Scandanavia some of these multi-party coalition governments have survived decades and passed legislation more effectively and efficiently than Canada’s government. (Cassidy, 1997)
Canadians throughout the past ten years have not changed there views too much, and most do feel that changes do need to be made to many different aspects of Canadian democracy. They would also support a government willing to reform these areas. However, many Canadians speak in ignorance. After saying that all of these problems occur within the Canadian government, “71 per cent of Canadians indicate they are satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada, and more than half with government and politics.” (Howe & Northrup, 2000) Reports like Stregthening Canadian Democracy should be taken seriously into account, to guide political and institutional change for the simple fact that a democratic government’s purpose is to serve its people. Reports like these should serve as a critique for government and as a voice of the people. However I fear it will not because the vast majority of Canadians are too passive in the political arena, and believe that acceptability, is simply defined as, being better than the alternatives seen around the world. Canadians seem to be satisfied with an imperfect democracy, and that is what Canadians will have to endure until as a population Canadians stand together and decide that it is no longer acceptable.
1. Howe, Paul & David Northrup. Policy Matters Strengthening Canadian Democracy: The Views of Canadians vol.1 no.5. July, 2000
2. Roger Gibbins and Loleen Youngman Berdahl. “ The Institutional expression of Multiple Identities: The electoral Reform Debate” Braving the New World, Readings in Contemporary Politics. (2000): 176-186
3. Cassidy, Michael. “How Proportional Representation would Improve Canada’s Electoral System”, Paul Fox and Graham White, Politics Canada, 8th edition McGraw-Hill Ryerson: 398-412