Editorial: Democracy is Broken

Trent Ernst, Editor

Over the last few days, I’ve been hearing a variety of comments, ranging from “Another 4 years of enduring corruption, debt, deception, secrecy, back room deals, dishonouring legally binding contracts, massive underfunding of schools, hospitals, legal aid, courthouses, provincial parks, social services, seniors’ facilities, failures to hold regular legislature sessions, highest rates of child poverty and student-loan debt” to “Thank God that the NDP didn’t get in; that would have spelled ruin for us all” to “The Greens gave the Libs their majority tonight. Well done, Greens.”

But perhaps the comment that cut to the heart of the issue was by a friend of mine, who took the time to do the math, and pointed out that “21.82 percent of the total electorate of BC elected the Liberals to a majority government. Clearly, the system is broken.”

Think about that for a second. Barely more than one fifth of the population voted for the people who are going to make decisions on our behalf for the next four years. No matter what your political leanings, you have to admit that 22 percent does not reflect a majority of the population.

Here’s the official numbers. As of January, 3,315,040 people in BC were estimated eligible to vote. Of those, nearly all (3,116,626, or 94.01 percent) registered to vote, and that’s not counting the people who registered at the polls themselves.

Of the people that registered, barely half those people voted. And of those, only 723,618 voted for the party now in charge. That’s no longer democratic numbers, that’s pushing into oligarchy territory: rule by a privileged few.

Here’s the thing. Those privileged few? The only thing they have over the majority of the rest of the population is that they bothered to vote. We’re not talking the days before women got the vote, we’re not talking the days before people of different ethnicities got the vote. We’re talking 2013, when all you need to do to be eligible to vote is show up.

Heck, you don’t even need to show up at your own polling station anymore. You could walk into any old polling station across the province and cast your vote.

But you didn’t. Yes, you. You, the majority of people who live here in Tumbler Ridge. No, don’t try and deny it. Voting numbers in the South Peace were even lower than the provincial average. Of the 18,066 of you who went through the trouble of registering, only 8,415 of you bothered to show up. Sure that could have included the entire population of Tumbler Ridge, but somehow, I don’t think so. We’ll find out next month when Elections BC releases their official figures (the figures above might change, BTW, as they are still dotting all the ‘I’s and counting all the late mail-in ballots).

As Rita Mae Brown wrote (possibly the first one to do so, though the quote is often attributed to Einstein), insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

And doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a perfect description of the democratic process in Canada as it stands right now.

There have been a few ideas floated about in the past that could be interesting. A few years ago, the Single Transferable Vote proposal won a majority of the vote in BC, but missed hitting the 60 percent mark needed to pass by 2.3 percent. I voted in favour, because I like the idea of a functional minority government.

Other people have pointed to places like Australia, where you are legally required to vote. But as soon as it becomes a requirement, freedom is taken away.

But I’d like to propose something different. Currently, census data is used to generate the list of eligible voters. What would happen if we took and flipped that on its head: that our census data was collected as part of our voting?

Think about it. If you show up to vote: federally, provincially, municipally, you are included as part of that census. So, if you choose not to vote municipally, that’s your choice, but then you are not included as a resident, and the services offered by the District to residents (water and sewer) would not be offered to you. Don’t vote provincially? Say goodbye to your driver’s license. Don’t vote federally? There goes your health care.

Oh, sure, there are a few hurdles to overcome. What if the wife voted in a municipal election, but the husband didn’t? Do they turn off sewer but leave the water on? And if you didn’t vote federally, would you then be considered a landed immigrant or an illegal one?

But you have to admit: it would certainly motivate people to get out there and vote.