Students at St Thomas University’s School of Social Work are taking on what they see as issues with Canada’s electoral system.
Edward Stansfield, Kelly Cunningham, Nevin Brewer and Tara Hay are researching how electoral reform affects New Brunswickers, and presented their ideas for National Social Work Month on Monday during the annual Social Action Fair.
The group thinks proportional representation, a system which takes into account every vote and distributes seats in Parliament to parties based on the overall vote, could address low voter turnout.
“We feel that at the very least if they felt like their vote was going to be reflected, in representation, true representation, that alone would maybe reinvigorate the democratic process and people being engaged with politics again,” said Stansfield.
In Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system, the candidate with the most votes in an electoral riding becomes a Member of Parliament and gets a seat in the House of Commons. The party with the most MPs then forms a government, and the party leader becomes the Prime Minister. The party with the second highest amount of MPs becomes the Official Opposition.
“It’s just not representative of the population of Canada, I think it’s not what ends up happening. The seats in power is not in proportion to what people actually voted for,” said Cunningham.
The Conservative Party won a 54 per cent majority in the 2011 election with only 40 per cent of the popular vote, while the opposition NDP only won 33 per cent of seats in Parliament with 31 per cent of the vote. Green Party leader Elizabeth May is the only Green MP out of 308 in total, despite getting 3 per cent of the popular vote.
The students say that low voter turnouts shows how voters feel disengaged with the current system. Voters may feel like the issues they’re most worried about will not be addressed.
“If we have proportional representation, then that makes parties. All parties want to fight for more votes, so I think that then they might cover more issues,” Hay said.
Stansfield and Cunningham said education is connected to the current state of the political system.
“I think if more people knew about this issue and if they would probably be a little outraged just they we were, and they would demand reform,” said Stansfield.
The group targeted for voting less is often the youth vote. According to the Parliament of Canada website, in the 2011 general election only 38.8 percent of people between 18 and 24 voted.
“I feel like youth would just have a better capacity to understand the system, it would make more sense, they would want to be engaged, you would feel more empowered, and then perhaps any issues you they have would be brought to the table more often,” Cunningham said.
“We’re no longer a democracy in Canada, and we want to bring that back,” said Hay.