Electoral reform could help increase the student political voice

On Feb 1, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government was scrapping all plans for electoral reform. As students, electoral reform would’ve been a step towards increasing our political representation.

During his campaign, Trudeau pledged that 2015 would be the last election under the current first-past-the-post voting system, in which the candidate with the most votes in the riding gets the seat. Currently, a party can get the majority of the seats without getting the majority of votes.

Trudeau, along with former Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef, had a number of suggestions for a new electoral system. Proportional representation, for instance, would give a party the percentage of seats equivalent to the percentage of votes. Another option was a ranked ballot — which is what the AMS uses in elections. A voter can rank the candidates in their order of preference and the candidate with the least favourability gets dropped and their votes get allocated to the next-ranked candidate.

Both of these systems give Canadians a more impactful vote, especially students. Currently, the student vote is dispersed throughout ridings, making it less impactful as only the votes going to the winning candidate end up counting.

Electoral reform could have the effect of concentrating the student vote and thereby making politicians more concerned with issues that affect students.

Trudeau’s electoral reform promise was a part of his campaign strategy to target younger voters, as electoral reform would have increased the impact of student votes along with everyone else’s. His strategy worked — 18 to 24-year-olds had a voter turnout rate of approximately 57.1 per cent during the 2015 election, up from just 38.8 per cent in 2011, the largest increase across age groups between 2015 and 2011.

Students indicated an interest in Trudeau and faith that he would work to benefit us. Yet, as students and as voters, we have a minimal impact in the current system, something he’s now shown he has no plans to do anything about.

That’s not to say that students can’t have an impact. In the 2011 federal election, four students and one recent graduate were elected as NDP MPs from Montreal and Sherbrooke. Among these was the youngest Canadian MP ever, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who was just 19 at the time he was elected —marking what can happen when politically involved students are given a voice in the electorate. Unsurprisingly, these members were from Quebec where students are very politically active.

It’s our responsibility as young Canadians to advocate for a better democracy and an electoral system that best represents us.

Brigid is one of The Journal’s Copy Editors. She’s a second-year Political Studies student.

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