‘Canada is suffering from electoral dysfunction’

Community members sound off on electoral systems, democratic reform

Green party member Eric Walton speaks at a public consultation on electoral reform Tuesday night. Walton called for the political system to “grow up.”
Green party member Eric Walton speaks at a public consultation on electoral reform Tuesday night. Walton called for the political system to “grow up.”

Canada’s electoral system is dysfunctional, and democracy must adapt to 21st-century politics, Chris
Horkins, Queen’s New Democrat leader, told a citizens’ group designed to discuss and review Ontario’s electoral system. “Which is worse—students not voting, or students voting against their values?” Horkins asked the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Tuesday night.

“Some say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, it’s broke. Canada is suffering from electoral dysfunction. Democracy must adapt itself to the 21st century.” Horkins said he believes a mixed-member plurality system, combining both proportional representation and plurality regional representation, would be the best system for Ontario.The assembly, whose chair is Queen’s political science professor Jonathan Rose, has been travelling across Ontario and holding public forums at the request of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. Tueday night, they met Kingston residents and Queen’s students at Kingston Frontenac Public Library on Johnson Street.

Tom Kent, a fellow at the school of policy studies, also shared his view for the necessity of change. “Democracy is more than just one person, one vote,” Kent said. “Democracy means that all
citizens have the same opportunity to influence what the government does. We need to find the best replacement for it.”

Eric Walton, a member of the Green party who ran in the 2006 federal election, spoke of the importance of voting in ademocracy and the problems of voting in Ontario. “There is a current disconnect between the problems we face in Ontario and the quality of decision making,” he told the panel. “The current political system needs to grow up and keep up with evolving society.”

The public consultation was meant to provide Ontario citizens the chance to understand Ontario’s electoral system and the opportunity to provide suggestions for change. Legitimacy, accountability, stronger voter participation, stable and effective government, effective parties and fairness of representatives were some of the issues touched upon during the meeting.

Max Rubin, ArtSci ’08, and Jared Giesbrecht, Law ’08, also discussed changes in Ontario’s electoral
system, touching upon issues of student apathy, strategic voting and growing cynicism among voters. Supporting the idea of proportional representation, Rubin said he wants to see the system become more accountable and to make every vote count. “We have to bridge the gap and benefit our province,” Rubin told the audience, “You need more youth to vote and youth to participate. A PR system will make people feel more engaged [so they] will vote.” Giesbrecht, co-chair of Queen’s
Greens and supporter of a mixed-member plurality system, said he’s put off by the current system since few votes transform into seats.“Votes are not representative of who actually wins seats,” Giesbrecht said. “We need a more proportional system representative of the values of the young people and a system that is not excessively complicated. Right now, voting is an ineffective way to influence the politics of Canada.” Lyndsey Hannigan is a fourth-year politics student writing her thesis about the assembly. “Public consultation is important in any democracy,” Hannigan told the Journal. “Thisis a unique experience in politics – coming back to the community.”

Michael Trick, ArtSci ’07, said he was happy to see that everyday citizens came to the meeting, including himself, and that he hopes to see Ontario switch to a form of mixed-member plurality voting.
“There is no perfect system but I want there to be a change that would bring about no strategic voting,” he told the Journal. By May 15, the assembly will present a recommendation to the government outlining a suggestion for the future of the province’s electoral system. The Ontario government will put the suggestion to a referendum during this October’s provincial election.

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