Out with the old: electoral reform in Canada

A variety of UBC professors, undergrad and grad students participated in a panel discussing electoral reform in Canada during an event hosted by Fair Vote Canada on Tuesday night.

For the last 250 years, Canada's elections have been dictated by the first-past-the-post system — an antiquated system that many first-world countries have rejected and reformed.

The first-past-the-post system can best be described as “winner takes all.” In a nutshell, the MP who wins the most votes in their riding is the MP who receives a seat in Parliament.

Under this system, the Conservatives govern the country with a majority having won only 39.6 per cent of the total votes in 2011. The New Democrats had 30.6 per cent and the Liberals had 18.9 per cent.

“Whoever gets the most votes wins and all of the other votes don't actually contribute towards directing the country or providing any representation in the government,” said Julie Van de Valk, Student Coordinator of UBCC350 and student member of the UBC Board of Governors. “Changing the first-past-the-post system will add more value to individual votes and there’ll be a greater move to appeal to a wider voting audience.”

The panel also included Paul Kershaw, founder of Generation Squeeze and associate professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health; Grace Lore, member of Equal Voice and political science PhD candidate at UBC; and Dave Moscrop, member of Fair Vote Canada and another political science PhD candidate at UBC. Non-UBC affiliated members of the panel were Michael Markwick, member of Metro Van Alliance, and Lyndsay Poaps, Executive Director of LeadNow.

For an hour and a half, the panelists expressed their positions on the first-past-the-post electoral system, its alternatives and improvements, as well as how it relates to women, climate policy and youth.

“Students should care about voting reforms for the exact same reason that they don't care, for a large part, about Canadian politics, federal elections and voting in general,” said Van de Valk. “I think a lot of students feel like, ‘My vote doesn't matter.’”

She explained that in the current system, students feel that unless they voted for the winning party, their individual votes don't make a difference. But in a reformed system, each vote has equal weight and can decide the representation that goes to Ottawa.

Every political party, save for the Conservatives, have promised to reform the electoral system.

The panel also encouraged face-to-face youth engagement keeping students informed on how politics affect their lives and motivating them to vote.

“I think that if it's done right, we’d breathe some new life into Canadian democracy and make sure that citizens feel engaged with their politicians,” said Van de Valk.