Six Ways to Make Canada's Next Election Better

Electoral reform doesn't have to be complicated.

by VICE Staff
Oct 23 2019, 10:00am

If there’s one sentiment that can sum up how a lot of us are feeling at the end of this election, it’s disillusionment.

There was no shortage of scandals, from Justin Trudeau’s blackface and brownface photos to Andrew Scheer’s false insurance credentials and secret American citizenship. But when it came to substantive issues like climate change, the opioid crisis, and affordable housing, candidates from all the major parties could have been pushed harder.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that voter turnout took a two percent hit since 2015. Last time around, Trudeau promised Canadians that they had just voted in the last election to use the first-past-the-post system. It turns out that wasn’t true. But here, nonetheless, are our best suggestions for making elections here better:

Proportional representation

Trudeau didn’t follow through on his pro-rep promise, perhaps because he wanted to win again—which he did. Proportional representation means that a party’s number of seats in Parliament will reflect the percentage of Canadians who voted for them. Lots of democracies use some kind of proportional voting.

Proponents of proportional representation argue that it makes for a fairer election process, in which people can vote for who they actually want to see in power, and feel like that vote will count. It also has the potential to force stronger cooperation among the parties, and would address the alienation felt by some voters outside 416 and 905 area codes. —Manisha Krishnan

Make the campaign longer

While there’s a fantastic case to be made that election campaigns should only be about a week, and the U.S. is all the proof you need that perpetual campaigns are hell on earth, elections that are only 40 days long are stuck in the mushy middle. Canada is too big, and too diverse in both issues and population, for parties to properly devote time and energy fully across the nation. Additionally, 40 days really doesn’t give many new candidates time to build any sort of reputation to gain momentum. You make the election a full two months, and that’s nearly double the number of doors that have been knocked on. —Josh Visser

Fix the debates

Rightly or wrongly, the leaders’ debates play a central role in the campaign, and the 2019 debates were pretty much a joke. There was only a single English debate in which all of the major leaders participated, and that debate also included non-relevant Maxime Bernier and a party only running in Quebec. Climate change, the most important topic of our time, got what, 30 minutes of debate time in English? The Liberal government's “independent” Leaders’ Debates Commission has no teeth, and scheduling only two official debates (one in each language) does little other than make it easy on party leaders. Double the number of debates, at minimum, lose the irrelevant leaders, and force leaders to tackle the actual challenging questions of the day. If elections were longer, say eight weeks, a debate every two weeks is completely doable and might result in something of value actually being said. (I’m being optimistic, obviously, but what choice do I have.) —Josh Visser

Make protest votes a thing

There’s no way to vote for “none of the above” in Canadian federal elections, and as we’ve seen with this round, that should really be an option. How else can people publicly show their dissatisfaction with the candidates, or take a stand against a system they find politically alienating?

Right now, you can literally eat your ballot, and that action would be counted as a “rejected ballot” and put into the same category as someone who put an X beside every single candidate. Our system should allow for political statements with some (or any) nuance. —Anne Gaviola

Change the three-hour rule for gig workers

By law, your employer has to give you time off to vote if you don't have a three-hour window before or after you're done work. But what if you're a gig worker, juggling more than one job and more than one employer? The rule doesn't really work for you if you're going from one side hustle to another on election day. The three-hour rule also stipulates that your employer isn't allowed to withhold pay from you if you go vote during work hours, but that is meaningless to gig workers who get paid based on specific actions (like food delivery couriers who are only paid per food delivery that they complete).

When you consider that 60 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are part of the gig economy, according to the Bank of Canada, that's a huge segment of young voters who either won't get to vote on election day because of the nature of their work, or will have a really hard time being able to vote.

Note that we’re not recommending online voting. If it becomes a thing, future elections are at risk of getting hacked. Take Switzerland, where earlier this year researchers found a major flaw in the code for a proposed online voting system that would allow someone to alter votes without detection. The technology isn’t there yet, and the risks of elections being manipulated and democracy being subverted for convenience sake is simply too high. —Anne Gaviola

Lower the voting age

Being a teenager is hard enough when your voice is ignored or discounted at every table. In my experience, stereotypical teenage apathy is less about not caring, and more about not feeling valued. We’re doing a disservice to an entire generation by not allowing them to influence policies being decided now that could impact their life forever, all while boomers who won’t live to see long-term consequences (such as, I don’t know, the environment going up! in! flames!) have their say. A body of research suggests that lowering the voting age also fosters civic engagement as well—it can influence teens to vote more throughout their lives in addition to encouraging their parents to vote. This is a country that lets 16-year-olds drive thousands of pounds on four wheels. Why not let them vote too? —Jill Krajewski

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