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The election that wasn't

This Magazine Staff

The Canadian federal election of 2008 slouched to its ignominious end last night. Having blogged about it here over the last five weeks, we can say several things:

  1. It didn’t produce a strikingly different parliament and we could have all saved ourselves the time and money;
  2. None of the parties experienced much of a victory or a defeat;
  3. It was kind of dull.

Which isn’t much to show for five weeks of campaigning. Especially considering that it had the potential to be one of the most ideologically heated elections in decades. Between worldwide economic collapse, an unprecedented electoral preoccupation with hot-potato arts funding, the entry of the Green Party into the debates and the Liberal party’s choice to campaign on its dud “green shift” platform, and the ballooning cost of the Afghan war, there was plenty of material over which the parties could engage meaningfully.
Instead we got jokes about sweater vests and animated shitting puffins. We all responded with a resounding yawn: the number of eligible voters who actually bothered to go to the ballot box plunged to a new low of just 58 percent.
The electorate’s apathy in this election could be chalked up to any number of things: uninspiring leaders, boredom with the same old platforms and policies, exhaustion after several years of minority governments and frequent elections, dissatisfaction with the First-Past-The-Post system, and so on. That last point is the one that, for me and many others, emerged as the theme of this election.
Our parliamentary representation is divorced from reality. That became very clear as the numbers rolled in yesterday. The Bloc Québecois received less than 10 percent of the popular vote and gets 50 seats; the Green party receives almost seven percent of the popular vote and receives none. The NDP receives almost twice as many votes as the Bloc but ends up with a third as many seats.
If this was a method of choosing contestants on Canadian Idol, it would be denounced as corrupt and quickly scrapped, but apparently it’s just fine for choosing the government of our fine dominion.
The frustration that hundreds of thousands of Canadians feel about this is obvious: the vote-swapping groups on Facebook and the strategic voting sites like voteforenvironment.ca and anyonebutharper.ca are symptoms of a deeper dissatisfaction with how this country is governed. Millions of votes are ignored under this system, and it disenfranchises people who actually take the time to vote — a dwindling population, and no wonder.
Proportional representation works in dozens of modern democracies around the world. It’s time for Canada’s election system to grow up and adopt a PR electoral system. This issue cuts to the heart of Canadian democracy, and we should be demanding that it be at the top of every party’s to-do list when the next election rolls around — which, at this rate, could be any minute now.

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