(English) Democratic Voting System Campaign

(English) Democratic Voting System Campaign

Advocating for representative, democratically elected, waste-preventing government

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Voter Rights Campaign 1993-2011 archive

The Opportunity

The pressure is increasing on the federal government to clean-up the spending, hiring and Cabinet appointment systems to ensure efficient and effective behaviour by politicians and public servants.

During the 2006 election campaign, the Conservatives promised that if they won they would pass an “Accountability Act” containing 52 measures to clean up the federal government’s accountability system, as well as implement 5 other democratic reforms.  When the Act was introduced, however, it only contained 30 measures and weakened key ethics rules (To see details about the 30 measures, click here, — To see details about the Conservatives’ broken promises, click here (archive website).

More recently, all of the federal opposition parties have promised to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) independent of Cabinet and to give the PBO more powers to ensure spending estimates are accurate (the Conservatives promised both of these things in 2006).

Other needed spending controls include reducing the pay, perks and pensions for federal politician’s as they are at levels that put politicians at the top 2% income level in Canada, requiring everyone in the government must be required to submit the actual, detailed receipt (showing the number of people at the event, what was purchased, by whom, and at what price) for all expenses claimed to help prevent unjustified expense claims, and; giving the Auditor General must have the power to audit the expense reports of everyone in the government to help prevent dishonest expense claims.

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett is planning to propose a private member bill that will require meaningful public consultation before any significant government decision is made.  The basis of this change was first proposed in a June 2001 federal Industry Committee report which resulted in the creation of a government website that contains all key information about all current, past, and planned consultations.  Model consultation standards were set out in the October 2002 Code of Good Practice on Policy Dialogue which was established under the 2001 Accord Between the Government of Canada and the Voluntary Sector.  The federal government is currently considering whether to make these guidelines more enforceable.

The pressure is also increasing on Canadian governments to change Canada’s voting system, and at the federal level either to change the Senate from an appointed body into an elected body, or to abolish the Senate.

In B.C., the now-ruling Liberal Party held a consultation process on changing the voting system, and held a referendum on the issue in May 2005 and in May 2009 (the same time as the provincial election).  In Ontario, the now ruling Liberal Party held a similar consultation process and referendum on changing the voting system.  The governments of Québec and Prince Edward Island have also undertaken reviews of their voting systems.

As with many other policy innovations in the history of Canada, change to a democratic voting system will likely occur in a province or several provinces first, before the federal government finally responds to the widespread call for change.

Other key voting system reforms include fixing federal election dates (archive website), giving voters the right to vote “none of the above” and empower Elections Canada to hold election debates with participation based on merit.

As well, the robocall scandals of the 2008 and 2011 elections have made it clear that Elections Canada needs new enforcement powers, and needs to prove that it enforces the law properly by disclosing how it ruled on more than 3,000 complaints it has received since 1997(archive website).

Finally, Senate reform proposals have been under review by Parliament for the past several years, but have proven to be very complex and controversial – a much simpler solution is to abolish the Senate.


Does government represent you and use your money effectively and efficiently?

In its Voter Rights Campaign, Democracy Watch is tackling these two PR issues, parliamentary reform to increase citizen participation and government accountability for spending the public’s money, and proportional representation to increase the representativeness of the federal Parliament.

Parliamentary Reform

Currently, the federal government is dysfunctional because the Cabinet cannot be held accountable effectively by the spending accountability watchdog agencies and parliamentarians.  The Auditor General, the Public Service Commission, and the Parliamentary Budget Officer all lack key powers (and, in the case of the PBO, the independence from Cabinet) needed to enforce spending, budgeting and public service hiring rules.

As well, the rules have huge loopholes in them that allow for waste and abuse.

Several spending and hiring scandals over the past few years have revealed just how ineffective the current system is to ensure that rules are followed, and that those who break rules are held accountable.

As well, in 2006 the federal Conservatives promised to create an independent Public Appointments Commission to ensure that all Cabinet appointments are based on merit, not loyalty to the government.  They broke that promise, and many of their other democratic reform promises.

In addition, surveys conducted over the past decade by Ekos Research Associates Inc., on behalf of the federal government, have consistently found that:

  • over 80% of Canadians feel that politicians and business leaders have taken care of themselves and their friends while average Canadians have suffered badly;
  • over 70% believe that governments have lost sight of needs of average Canadians;
  • over 65% feel that the ethical standards of the federal government have slipped badly in the past decade;
  • over 40% have lost all confidence in our current system of government;
  • over 40% believe that government is doing a poor job consulting with citizens, and;
  • over 80% believe that government must place more emphasis on consulting citizens.

Voting System Reform

In addition, Canada has an electoral system that consistently misrepresents the Canadian public and denies Canadians the right to have their vote count!  The system at the federal level, and in all the provinces, is based on the British model known as first past the post (FPTP).

Under this system Canada is divided into a number of single-member voting districts (also known as “ridings”).  At the federal level, there are currently 301 seats in the House of Commons (the elected house of Parliament), and various numbers of seats in each provincial legislature.

In an election, the candidate who gets the largest number of votes in each of these districts wins the election, and a seat in either Parliament (at the federal level) or in the provincial legislature.

Unfortunately, this system can lead to some very surprising, and fundamentally undemocratic, results! The main criticism of the FPTP voting system is that a candidate does not necessarily need to win a majority of the votes to win the seat, and usually, if there are 3 or more candidates in the district, the winning candidate does not win a majority of the votes.  As a result, often political parties in Canada win a majority of seats in an election and form the government and have all the power (because the party controls a majority of seats in the legislature), even though the party only won the support of a minority of voters.

Other common criticisms of the FPTP voting system are that it effectively denies smaller parties fair representation in the legislature, it exaggerates the support of larger parties, and it exaggerates the support of parties that have support only in one province or region of Canada.

In addition, it often forces voters to vote for their 2nd choice candidate in order to ensure that a candidate they definitely don’t like loses.  For example, imagine if a voter has 3 candidates to choose from in his/her district in an election, from political parties A, B, and C, and the voter wants to vote for the candidate from party A.  If the promises and platforms of parties A and B are more similar than then platform of party C, then voters that vote for the candidates from parties A and B may split the vote (for example, 31% for the party A candidate, 33% for party B), allowing the candidate for party C to win the election with support from only 36% of the voters.  The voter can only help prevent party C from winning by voting for his/her 2nd choice, the candidate from party B.

A study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy released in July 2000 found that 49% of Canadians find the current voting system unacceptable, compared to 23% who favour the current system.

A survey conducted in late 2001 by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada found that 37% of eligible voters who did not vote in the November 2000 federal election did not vote because they felt that their vote would have no effect and they did not like the choices of candidates and parties.

As an appointed body, the federal Senate of Canada of course presents a different problem for Canadian voters.  Unelected, unaccountable, and sometimes simply unworthy of the appointment, Senators have more policy-making power than they usually acknowledge, and are less representative than they usually claim.

When the federal government finally tackles the key issue of changing our voting system to ensure a more accurate representation of the popular vote and regional interests in the federal Parliament, turning the Senate into an elected body (or abolishing it altogether) is one of the key changes to be made.

If you fill in your information and click SEND to send the letter on the right-hand side of this page, your letter is sent to the following key politicians across Canada that have the most power to make decisions about this issue:

  • the Prime Minister and the leaders of the federal opposition parties;
  • the Premiers of every province and territory, and the leaders of provincial and territorial opposition parties;
  • key federal Cabinet ministers (Democratic Reform Minister and Treasury Board Minister) and related opposition party critics;
  • members of key federal House of Commons committees (Access, Privacy and Ethics Committee, Procedure and House Affairs Committee, and Government Operations Committee);
  • members of key federal Senate committees (Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and Rules, Procedures and Rights of Parliament Committee).

You will also receive a copy of your letter to your email inbox, and you can then send your letter on to any other politician you like. To find the contact information for all other federal, provincial, or territorial politicians, click here.