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No one should be surprised by low voter turnout in Trudeau’s selfish, unnecessary summer snap election

Snap election call during August holiday period, party misleaders, voting system, weak political ethics laws and platforms, and pandemic combine to lower voter turnout to about 62 percent

Friday, September 24, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in response to low voter turnout in Prime Minister Trudeau’s selfish and unnecessary summer snap election, Democracy Watch called for democratic changes to the federal political system to increase voter turnout. Initial results show that the Trudeau Liberals have won 47% (159 out of 338) of the seats in the House of Commons with the support of only 20% of eligible voters, which raises serious questions about their mandate to govern, let alone implement any specific law or policy.

Only about 62% of eligible voters cast a ballot, which puts the election among the five federal elections with the lowest turnout in Canadian history (2011, 2008, 2004, 2000 and 1896). A total of about 32.5% of the ballots cast were for the Liberals.

Voter turnout likely decreased in part because of Trudeau’s summer snap election call which led to the cancellation of on-campus polling stations and the reduction in polling stations in many ridings that caused long lineups on election day, as well as problems with the mail-in ballot system. However, even the 67-68% turnout in the 2015 and 2019 elections is still significantly below the turnout levels of 75% or more in many elections in the 1970s and 1980s.

“With only about 62 percent of voters casting ballots in the federal election, the fifth lowest turnout ever, and only 20 percent of eligible voters supporting the winning party, alarm bells should be going off and questions raised about the legitimacy of the federal government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Voter turnout will go up significantly only if honesty is required in politics, the voting system is changed to a proportional system with the right to vote none-of-the-above, and political ethics and government accountability laws are strengthened.”

Federal parties must ensure make the following changes if they want to increase voter turnout to the past level of about 75% in many elections in the 1970s and 1980s, or even higher:

  1. Pass an honesty-in-politics law that gives voters an easy, low-cost way to file complaints to the Ethics Commissioner, and requires the Commissioner to penalize misleaders (and requires MPs who switch parties in-between elections to resign and run in a by-election), and also enact effective measures to stop false claims during elections, especially online;
  2. Add the right to vote “none of the above” and to give a reason on election and by-election ballots;
  3. Move the fixed election date to the last Monday in October to make it easier for people with kids, and students, to follow and participate in the election campaign and have the identification needed to vote. Democracy Watch has filed a court case challenging Trudeau’s snap election call as a violation of the fixed election date measures in Canada’s election law,
  4. Change the voting system to provide a more accurate representation of the popular vote results in each election in the seats held by each party in the legislature (as in many other countries) while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, voters in each riding/constituency (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with a low-level, narrow-base of support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in the legislature), and;
  5. Strengthen federal political ethics, political finance, lobbying, open government, and whistleblower protection laws (the Green Party received the best grade of C- in overall bad grades in DWatch’s Report Card on the parties’ election platforms);
  6. Mandate Elections Canada to spend the $5 million or so it spends each election on voter education advertising on ads that include the following two key messages in their voter education advertising and communications – the real reasons to vote – which its partner organization Democracy Education Network includes in its and voter turnout initiatives:
    1. “You never know when your vote may count” — with examples from past elections, and from specific ridings in various elections, which show clearly that election results cannot be predicted in advance, and;
    2. “If you don’t vote, you don’t count” — making it clear that politicians don’t really care about you if you don’t vote because non-voters do not help them get elected or defeated.

These changes will make it easy and give voters many more compelling reasons to vote as they will know that voting for a specific party will mean their vote will count and the party’s promises will be kept, and they will be more assured of democratic, accountable good government overall no matter which party wins.

“More and more voters know from their experience of the past few decades of elections that they are not going to get what they vote for, and are likely to get dishonest, secretive, unethical, unrepresentative and wasteful government no matter which party they vote for, and as a result no one should be surprised to see voter turnout at such a low level,” said Conacher.

These problems exist in all the provinces and territories across Canada. All of these changes should be made by the federal and provincial and territorial governments, and for their municipalities, before mandatory voting is even considered because forcing voters to vote creates false legitimacy for political parties and politicians (and mandatory voting must never be implemented unless “none of the above” is one of the options on the ballot). Internet voting should also not even be considered currently given it would dangerously undermine the integrity of the voting system.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign