Voting system shuts out minorities, women

(Canscene) –Canada’s current voting system discriminates against women and minorities of all sorts, and it’s time for a change, according to Fair Vote Canada, a national citizens’ movement for electoral reform.

Women are more than half the population,but our Parliament has been stuck at about 21 per cent women for decades. We are number 47 on the list of countries in terms of women’s representation. This is a national disgrace! And almost every ethnic and religious group is also under-represented. For example, according to their numbers in the population, we should have about a dozen aboriginal people in every Parliament, but we’ve never had more than five.

System at fault
To us at Fair Vote Canada, the problem is the system we use to elect our MPs and MPPs.

Our winner-take-all system makes it very difficult for new people and new groups to break in. Electing only one member in each riding means every party is trying to find a candidate who appeals to the dominant group.

Most industrial democracies today use voting systems that include multi-member ridings or candidate lists to insure that political parties win seats in proportion to the number of votes they receive.

The incentives are all different. With a proportional voting system, the strategy is something for everyone. Candidates get elected with a much smaller percentage of the vote, so it’s easier for minority groups to be represented.

The difference can clearly be seen in the case of New Zealand, which changed their voting system a decade ago from a system like ours to one based on the mixed member proportional system developed in Germany and now used in the regional Parliaments in Scotland and Wales. The New Zealand Parliament was considered more British than the British, but now they elect many more women than we do and three times as many Maori people as they used to, and they are also electing Pacific Islanders and people from all sorts of backgrounds who were never represented before.

A referendum likely in Ontario next year
Would a proportional voting system lead to a more representative Parliament? We may get to find out soon. Five provinces are looking at changing their voting system, and Ontario is one of them. The Ontario government is fulfilling an election promise by establishing a Citizens” Assembly to consider whether we need to change our voting system in Ontario. The Citizens’ Assembly will be composed of ordinary citizens selected at random from the voters’ lists, and the process of choosing these people has already started.

We are very likely to be voting in a referendum on October 4, 2007 on a new voting system for Ontario.

Under our current voting system most of us vote for people who don’t get elected, so we end up with a government that most of us didn’t vote for. Our current voting system divides us into a few winners and lots of losers, but fair voting systems treat all voters equally and make every vote count.

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Wayne Smith of Fair Vote Canada
Wayne Smith is a member of the National Council of Fair Vote Canada, the elected board of directorsof the organization of which he is a former president. He was the founding chair of the Toronto Chapter and also the founding Chair of the Fair Vote Ontario campaign.

For more information, contact Wayne Smith at wayne@wayneon.ca or Larry Gordon at larry.gordon@fairvotecanada.org
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