29 March 2011

I'd like to vote, but my conscience objects

So we are to have yet another election. On May 2nd we will have the opportunity to exercise our democratic franchise. We will have the opportunity as free and equal citizens to elect representatives to govern us. Well, actually, we won't. If I were to cast a vote, for example, it would count the same as it has for the last many federal elections I've voted in—absolutely nothing. It would elect no one to represent me. Voting will, therefore, be a waste of my time, so I am not going to bother.

I have always voted in the past. A close friend has consistently asked me why, seeing as it has never helped elect anyone to carry my views to Ottawa, and I have consistently come up with some vague justification about performing my democratic duty, about how so many people elsewhere lacked the right, etc. My reasoning increasingly seemed to sound like my mother telling me why I should eat my vegetables when I was a kid. "Children in China are starving," she used to say, "they would be grateful for those peas." Of course me eating my vegetables made not the slightest difference to Chinese kids. Similarly, me voting in a federal election won't make the slightest difference to who represents Canadians in Ottawa.

I already know who will win in my constituency and by how much. Lee Richardson, Conservative, will win by between 15 to 20,000 votes. Lee is a nice enough fellow, and probably a good representative—if you're a Conservative. But I'm not. Lee and I disagree on probably 19 issues out of 20, so he doesn't represent me in any meaningful way. And my vote will not help elect anyone who does. It should, but it doesn't.

The reason it doesn't is because of our shabby electoral system. A democratic system would ensure that every vote counted and that it counted equally in electing someone who represented the individual voter's views. This could easily be done. There would, thank god, be no need to amend the constitution. There are many electoral systems that ensure each vote contributes to the election of a legislator who meaningfully represents the voter. The federal government need only choose a system that best fits Canadian circumstances—and proportional systems can be tailor-made to fit a wide range of circumstances—and legislate it into effect.

Until that happens, I will feel that if I vote I am participating in a fraud, acting as if my vote counts, being told it counts, when in fact it doesn't. Democracy means political equality—every citizen has the same power in electing his or her representative. Our antiquated first-past-the-post system betrays that equality. It deprives me, and millions of other Canadians, of their democratic right.

This should be unconstitutional and may very well be. A case winding its way through the courts in Quebec which will probably wind up in the Supreme Court is challenging the constitutionality of first-past-the-post. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the courts will rule that to be meaningful under Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms there must be a strong (I'm thinking at least 95 per cent) correlation between the popular vote and representation in the House of Commons. If the case is successful, I may finally get to cast a meaningful vote in a federal election.

In the meantime, I will continue to support Fair Vote Canada and hound the political parties to promote a democratic voting system. But vote? No point.

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