October 8, 2013 - Green Party leader Elizabeth May, speaking at the Speak Up For Democracy Town Hall Meeting in Winnipeg. Photo: Paul S. Graham

October 8, 2013 – Green Party leader Elizabeth May, speaking at the Speak Up For Democracy Town Hall Meeting in Winnipeg. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Canadian democracy ain’t what it used to be and what it used to be was far from ideal. Still, fewer of us are voting and even fewer are satisfied with the outcome.

Over the past 20 years, voter turnout has declined precipitously. Of the 24.2 million citizens eligible to vote in the 2011 federal election, only 14.8 million, or 61.1 per cent did so. Of those who voted, 39.6 per cent, or 5.8 million voters chose a Conservative candidate. In other words, the government of Canada was elected by fewer than 25 per cent of eligible voters. 9.4 million Canadians chose not to vote for anyone; this is nearly twice as many as those who elected the governing party.

Among those of us who have chosen to vote, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the way this is represented in the House of Commons. The following table shows the distribution of seats following the 2011 federal election.



% of Seats

% of Vote





















Source: http://www.sfu.ca/~aheard/elections/results.html. (Note, percentages to not add up to 100, probably because of some rounding in the original data. But you get the idea.)

The top two parties clearly have more MPs than their share of the popular vote would justify. It looks like this.

Now, look what happens when MPs are elected in proportion to their party’s share of the popular vote.



















(Note: the above chart needed some rounding to make it work – but it’s close enough.) It would look like this.

Would adoption of a proportional representation system increase voter turnouts in elections? It might. Those who are convinced that their vote does not count might be encouraged to participate in a process that offered a more representative outcome.

However, all the electoral system reforms in the world will be fruitless unless the governments we elect learn to behave in a more democratic fashion.

A common refrain among voters is that once elected, Members of Parliament become invisible, until the next election, anyway. Stories of MPs frustrated by the their lack of freedom to speak their minds are growing, as are the complaints of reporters who are frustrated with the federal government’s record of providing information that should be made public in a timely way. Government scientists are prevented from discussing their publicly funded research. Organizations that evaluate government policies lose their funding. Critics of government policy find themselves described as dangerous radicals and citizens concerned about fracking are placed under surveillance. Shutting down Parliament to avoid controversy and using omnibus budget bills to to limit Parliamentary examination of legislation can be added to the list.

While our current federal government is notorious for its antidemocratic practices, governments at all levels have fostered a system that insulates them from addressing the concerns of citizens. This growing trend to undemocratic governance in a country that regards itself as a democracy inspired the town hall meeting that took place in Winnipeg Oct. 8, 2013.

Sponsored by Peace Alliance Winnipeg and the Green Party of Canada, “Speak Up for Democracy” featured Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, Dennis Lewycky, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, and Leah Gazan, a leading activist in Idle No More.

More that 200 people packed the Broadway Disciples United Church to hear from them and to discuss with them what must be done to rescue our democracy.

I’ve been to a lot of meetings over the years; this clearly was one of the best. So grab some pop corn, turn off your smart phone and invest the next two hours in pondering one of the most pressing issues of our generation.

Elizabeth May, MP
Green Party of Canada
Social Planning Council of Winnipeg
Idle No More Manitoba

  1. shanednblog says:

    Where’s the video?

  2. Shane, I believe if you look at the little frame at the end of the article you will find the video.🙂

  3. SD says:

    Last nice, I went to Elizabeth May’s road show in downtown Toronto. There were some good and not so good points I will mention:

    First, I thought that the Green Party candidate, John Deverell, spoke well and briefly. He was straight to the point.

    Next, when you have a projection screen in the background, use it to show different images. If you are only going to show one image, it would be better just to get a solid sign or have no sign instead. It looks back photographically in the background. It’s worse when an error message suddenly appears on the projection screen. If you must use a projection screen, have it to the side of the stage instead of dead centre (if possible).

    When it comes to question time, have a moderator in order to enforce a time limit from the questioners. After one minute, you’re starting to lose me. After two minutes, you have lost me completely. A moderator is needed to get the questioners to actually ask their questions instead of give speeches.

    When it comes to answer time, Elizabeth May must get straight to the point an answer the question in one minute (two minutes maximum). When she gives long-winded responses, she loses me. Also, this prevents other people from asking her questions. Her question-and-answer session ends up being a Liz May monologue rather than a dialogue.

    Candidate John Deverell started to look bored. Thankfully, he was hidden from public view by Tim Rourke who sat beside John and blocked John’s boredom from the audience.

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