Voter participation in this country is on the decline.
Fewer and fewer Canadians are taking the time to trudge down to their local polling station to cast their ballots during federal elections.
In fact, whereas 75 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 1988 federal election, only 65 percent did so in the 2006 federal election.
Even more troubling is that the lowest participation rate is among younger voters. According to one study, only 22 per cent of Canadians aged 18-20 voted in the 2000 federal election.
This is hardly a good sign for our democracy.
So what can be done to turn this around?
Some think the way to increase voter turnout is to revamp the way we elect our politicians. They argue our current British-style “First Past the Post” (FPP) system, where a candidate can be elected without gaining a majority of the votes, is unfair, unrepresentative and causes Canadians to think their votes don’t really “matter”.
The way to encourage Canadians to vote, their argument goes, is to make our system fairer and more representative; that is replace FPP with some sort of proportional representational electoral system of the sort they use in European countries.
Other people maintain, however, that there is only one way to increase voter participation: make voting mandatory. If people choose not to vote, they should be fined.
Canada’s former Chief Electoral Officer Jean Pierre Kingsley, for instance, was a big proponent of this “vote or else” idea. As he once put it, ““Sometimes, in order to save democracy, you have to do things that might seem to run a little bit against it”.
But both these solutions seem to deal with the symptom rather than the cause of declining voter participation. The problem, in other words, isn’t that Canadians are lazy or apathetic and need to be forced to vote, or that the voting system itself isn’t working.
The real problem is that Canadians are increasingly becoming turned off with the way politics is being practiced in this country. To be blunt, they are not voting because they don’t think any political party deserves their vote.
And who can blame them?
Let’s face it, politicians in this country aren’t exactly poster children for good government.
So if you really want to get Canadians back into the voting booths at election time, our politicians must change the way they do business.
Well, here are some of the ways our federal politicians can improve their image with voters:
· Keep election promises. (Yes I know this is a radical notion, but desperate times call for desperate measures.)
· Resist the urge to accept cash-stuffed envelopes from sleazy businessmen or party bagmen.
· Stop switching party allegiances the way other people switch TV channels.
· Stop attending “fact-finding missions” especially when those missions take place in January and are held in Hawaii.
· Stop voting yourself pay raises, while continuing to complain about how much more money you would make in the private sector.
· During Question Period try to raise the caliber of debate to a level slightly higher than that used by squabbling and cranky five year old children fighting over a toy.
· Try standing up for a principle, rather than simply telling people what you think they want to hear.
· Stop thinking that just because you are a politician you are somehow “entitled to your entitlements.”
I know it might be difficult for politicians to adopt these ideas. But it’s the only way to win back cynical voters.
If you build good government, the voters will come.