Re-Vitalizing Democracy

Governments in Canada are increasingly being elected by a smaller and smaller percentage of eligible voters. In British Columbia, voter turnout has been steadily declining, and so has the number of registered voters. The official voter turn out in the 200l provincial election was 71 percent, but in fact this figure represents only about 55 per cent of the province’s potential eligible voters – about 700,000 potentially eligible voters were not even registered.

The impact of incomplete voter registration and low voter turnout is intensified by our “first past the post” electoral system, where candidates are elected by a simple majority of voters in every constituency. An unfortunately revealing example of how the current electoral system does not pass any strong test of being “true democracy” is the 2001 provincial election. In that election, a total of 916,888 votes were cast for the Campbell government. This amounted to less than 32 percent of potential British Columbia voters. And that 32 percent of potentially eligible voters was able to elect 97 percent of MLA’s.

A further huge concern is the fact that youth participation and registration rates are even lower than adult rates. A recent study by Elections Canada estimates that less than 25 per cent of those aged 18 to 25 bothered to vote in the last federal general election.

What are the characteristics of a healthy democracy? Do low rates of voter participation and involvement in conventional political activities – joining political parties, attending conventions, working on election campaigns – matter? Why do people, and especially young people, seem to be so disinterested in politics? Do people prefer, and have adequate opportunity, to express their views and influence political decisions by means other than voting and direct political participation?

These are question which should engage anyone seeking political office. This campaign does not have all the answers. Instead, it proposes a number of policy ideas, relating both to the New Democratic Party and to the British Columbia electoral system, for consideration and discussion.

Policy Ideas

Start with ourselves

If the New Democratic Party wants to be a credible advocate of democratic reform, it must first look to itself. The following actions are proposed for consideration of the Party membership, and recommended for adoption as soon as possible:

Supporting electoral reform

Supporting other forms of participation

Please send comments on the Campaign for Change policy working papers to [email protected] before

November1, 2003