How many of us have voted for someone in an election who didn't win? The answer is probably everyone. If we think about it, this means that your vote didn't count. But it's not just yours... in a way, it's everyone's.
Our current provincial and federal elections follow the archaic system we call 'first past the post' (FPTP). The candidate with the most votes wins, and all the others lose. Canada is one of a small handful of Western democracies still using this system. The vast majority of democracies around the world have all adopted systems of proportional representation (PR), where representatives are elected in proportion to votes cast. That means citizens actually have a voice in governance, and deciding the policies that will determine the future of their community and individual health.
In Canada's current FPTP system both federally and provincially, we elect representatives based simply on the highest number of votes, even if this is only a small minority of them. We actually allow a minority of voters to elect what we euphemistically call 'majority' governments. These phoney majorities, such as the current one elected by less than 40% of the votes resulting in 100% of the power, are not new. Between 1930 and 1993 we had nine phoney majority governments, given all the power by a minority of voters. All parties have been negatively impacted in the past, but once elected they are loath to change the system that got them into power.
The societal pillars which determine our health outcomes cannot reflect the needs of our communities, if we do not have that fairly represented voice.
In the 2011 provincial election the Saskatchewan Party took 84% of the seats with only 64% of the vote, while the NDP got 16% seats with 32% of the vote. The Greens took almost 3% but did not gain a single seat. A PR allocation of the 58 seats would have been SP-37, NDP-19, GP-2. It would still have been a majority SP government, but with a much better representation of constituent will. The vote outcome probably would have been very different, as many voted strategically for either the SP or NDP (knowing their first choice did not stand a chance), or simply did not go to the polls, knowing their vote would not count. This may partly explain why we saw a steadily declining voter turnout.
Polls over the past decade have consistently shown that more than 70% of Canadians believe the proportion of seats a party is allotted should reflect the proportion of the popular vote they receive. A referendum to adopt PR in BC got an affirmative 58% vote, but the government decided a 60% majority was needed to pass... incidentally the government had been given 97% of the seats and all of the power there, with only 58% of the vote. The Law Commission of Canada has called for the replacement of the 'currently outdated' FPTP system with a Mixed Member type of PR similar to that of democratic countries like Scotland, Wales, Germany and New Zealand.
Fair Vote Canada is using peer-reviewed research to show countries using PR tend to outperform those using winner-take-all systems on quality of life and income equality which should directly affect those socio-economic factors that determine the health of individuals and communities.
All aspects of our lives are affected in major ways by the governments we elect. Everyone should therefore have a voice in government. The societal pillars which determine our health outcomes cannot reflect the needs of our communities, if we do not have that fairly represented voice. It's time for Canada to join the modern democratic world and adopt a truly fair electoral system. Several Canadian parties have already indicated they will bring in PR if elected. Let's ensure that 2015 is the last unfair election where the majority of votes cast do not count.
Lynn Oliphant is a professor emeritus from the Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, and founding member of the Prairie Institute for Human Ecology (PIHE). He has run as a Green Party candidate in what is now Saskatoon Grasswood, and in two provincial elections for the New Green Alliance. He received a Canadian Environment Award in 2005 for his visionary proposal, support and work on the Craik Sustainable Living Project (CSLP), a long-term plan for sustainability in the Saskatchewan community.