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It's Time To Change How We Vote In Canada

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ELECTORAL REFORM
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
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By the time Canadians return to the polls for the next federal election, the way we vote could be profoundly different.

We have had the same basic voting system in this country since Confederation. After 150 years, it is time for a change to something more modern, inclusive and democratic. It is time for an electoral system that ensures that everyone's voice is heard and counted when deciding the next government.

The way Canada's current first past the post system works is that those who get the most votes in a riding are sent to represent that community in the House of Commons. The political party with the most MPs elected forms the new government.

This system is thought of by many to be beautiful in its simplicity. And, certainly, it was an improvement on the non-democratic institutions that preceded it. But it is time now for the system to evolve to something better, just as it has already done in every major parliamentary democracy around the world, where proportional representation has become the norm.

Our new federal government was elected with a mandate to change the electoral system in Canada, and has committed to doing so before the next federal election in 2019. To meet that tight deadline, public consultations are looking at what a new voting system should look like -- including Wednesday in Toronto, where Unifor's Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi is making a presentation.

Over the years, our system for electing governments has been tweaked.

The consultations wrap up October 7, so the time to be heard is now. Sixty per cent of Canadians voted for one party or other the last election that supported electoral reform. There have been long lines at the open mics at this week's consultations as voter after voter steps forward to support changing the way we vote.

The intent of all this is to develop a system that reflects the voting intentions of Canadians in the seats allotted to political parties in the House of Commons. That means that if a party receives, say, 20 per cent of votes, it would get 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

How to achieve that is a much more difficult question, however, and one that demands input from as many Canadians as possible.

Unifor is actively taking part in the consultations, and will be vocal with our assessment of whatever is produced from them. We will be raising and debating this issue at regional council meetings over the next few years, just as we did at last month's national convention.

Over the years, our system for electing governments has been tweaked. Governments have updated laws to prevent voter fraud, and improved the methods used to compile voter lists. There have been spending limits placed on donations in hopes of improving access to the political system for all.

At one time, women, Aboriginal and Chinese Canadians and those without sufficient wealth were denied the right to vote. These restrictions eventually came down, giving a greater voice to all Canadians and in the process improving our democracy.

Similarly, riding boundaries have been redrawn to better reflect our communities and ensure more even representation across the country.

With electoral reform, we have an opportunity to improve our democracy and the future.

All of this is good and needed, but cannot make up for a fundamentally flawed system that fails to reflect the voting intentions of Canadians.

Our current first past the post system enables one party to slip up the middle and claim a majority government, even when the vast majority of voters have said they want someone else to form government. When one party can claim power with 39.6 per cent of the vote, as in the last election, something has to change.

Increasingly over the last few elections, people have felt compelled to vote strategically for the party most likely to defeat a government they don't like, rather than voting with their heart for the party and government they do want. It is a strategy that Unifor has advocated to make the best of a flawed voting system.

With electoral reform, we have an opportunity to improve our democracy and the future. This is your democracy, and these consultations are your way to make sure it works for you. For more on Unifor's electoral reform efforts, and how to make your voice heard, go to www.unifor.org/electoralreform.

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