WINNIPEG (CUP) — In the last federal election voter turnout reached an all time low with just 61 per cent of eligible voters casting a ballot.
This trend is concerning politicians, who are now looking for ways to combat growing voter apathy.
Senator Mac Harb was in Winnipeg recently to discuss mandatory voting.
Harb sees the decline in voter turnout as a result of Canadians forgetting the importance of voting. This, in turn, has created a “hollow democracy.”
“How can we have a government who claims to be representative when just 60 per cent bother to vote?”
In an attempt to stop what he refers to as the erosion of the democratic system, Harb introduced a Bill on mandatory voting to Senate chambers on Dec. 9, 2004.
Under the Bill, voters would be required to vote in all federal elections or face a $50 fine. To avoid the fine one would be able to refuse the ballot, vote for none of the above, or provide a letter to Elections Canada with a legitimate reason for not voting.
Harb’s Bill is modeled after Australia’s electoral system, which has been in place since 1924. During their last election, he says voter turnout was 95 per cent.
He also points to other countries, such as Belgium, Brazil and Greece, who have mandatory voting laws. In countries with mandatory voting, he says turnout reaches over 80 per cent of eligible voters, showing that “the system works beautifully.”
Critics argue that every individual has the right to decide whether they vote and by not voting, the individual may be making a statement to the government.
Under his proposal, Harb says the individual still has the right to decline the ballot. He further cautions that politicians see an individual not voting as “being happy with the status quo.”
While Harb allows for people making a statement, he has harsh words for people who simply chose not to vote.
“If you want to be lazy and not bother with your duty to other Canadians because you don’t care about your fellow citizens; because you don’t care about those who govern your nation; because you are un-Canadian, then, you know what, take your name off the list because you don’t deserve to vote,” says Harb.
Harb is the first to admit that he does not have the perfect solution, which he says would be for everyone to “get off your rear end, go to the voting booth and vote.”
Bill S-22 is at second reading and has been referred to a Senate committee.