UVic Torch -- Autumn 2007
Spring 2008,
Volume 29, Number 1

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The Politics of Voting: Reforming Canada’s Electoral System
By Dennis Pilon
Emond Montgomery Publications, 188 pages, $30


In short, Pilon makes three arguments against the current system. First, candidates often win ridings with a minority of votes. Second, parties are compelled to field candidates they think will appeal to as many people as possible. Such candidates are typically white, professional, heterosexual males, thus reducing representation of Canada’s social diversity. Third, parties whose supporters are geographically dispersed receive fewer seats per voter while parties with geographically concentrated support receive more.

“It’s not fair whether you’re a left-winger, or whether you’re a right-winger; it’s not fair for the voters,” says Pilon.

Defenders of the current voting system argue that extremists and special interest groups would find it easier to enter electoral politics under proportional representation. The current system, they say, encourages engagement through the established parties, thus uniting disparate elements of the polity and promoting Canada’s cohesion. And the current system tends to produce governments wherein one party is given the majority of seats, which leads to greater stability.

“There are lots of arguments in favour of a first past the post,” Pilon says. “But they’re just not democratic ones. To say, ‘We need first past the post governments because they’re stable.’ Well, dictatorships are stable. If that’s what you want, you don’t need democracy for that. Or the argument, ‘They provide majority governments.’ Well, if you think that giving a majority of support to people who only earned a minority of votes is democratic…” Pilon shakes his head. “It doesn’t sound democratic to me.”

Pilon asserts that the choice of voting systems is itself political. “We have to have a very robust, and critical, discussion that will challenge some of the things that people think they know about politics. I think it’s important that you understand the range of opinions. Then whatever decision you make, that’s your decision.”

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