The last Ontario election saw one of the lowest voter turnouts in the history of the province. A mere 52.6 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot to indicate their preferred choice for who should represent their riding. In the municipal election only about 53.2 per cent voted for who they thought should be the next mayor. These statistics are disturbing and indicate that our democracy is at risk. Why is this the case? Why is it so hard to convince people to participate in a process that’s so vital to the health of our civic society?
In a new feature for The Varsity’s comment section “Comment in Brief,” respondents were asked, “What does this election mean to you?” Their responses touch on three of the most frequent answers to why many choose not to vote: 1) that none of the parties represent their interests, 2) that none of the parties have realistic solutions for major problems, or 3) a feeling of complete disconnect from the political scene.
Although there were over 21 registered parties fielding an impressive 656 candidates, did you even hear from most of them? Even if you did, would you be confident that if you voted for one outside of Ontario’s three major political parties that it would even count? The answer is that it probably wouldn’t.
Then it’s not surprising that cynicism, dissatisfaction and apathy have become the norm when most people feel their interests are not going to be represented. Our first-past-the-post system means that only a few parties will have access to having their views heard in the Legislative Assembly. It creates situations — like in the last federal election — where although only 40 per cent of the population supported the Conservative Party, they hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons. As long as our electoral system does not adequately represent the interests of the electorate, we will only see a decrease in voter turnout.
The Government of Ontario so inadequately funded the Mixed Member Proportional referendum that it’s no wonder a vast majority opposed its adoption. Its funding fell short of the $13 million required to adequately explain and promote the proposal to the electorate. When queried about MPP, only 12 per cent of respondents indicated that they understood the proposal while 47 per cent knew nothing at all.
As long as the major parties are aligned against the interests of the electorate and continue to support a system that is becoming largely undemocratic we are not going to see a turnaround in voting numbers, no matter how much it is promoted. We cannot passively wait for the other parties to give us a shot at reforming our system. We need to put pressure on them and no longer take the stance that not voting is the only solution.
Will I be voting this provincial election? I will. Though considering the state of our democracy, I will certainly feel less comfortable doing so.