OTTAWA – Today Democracy Watch called for democratic changes to Quebec's political system in response to the clear crisis of low voter turnout in the last provincial election. The 2008 general election in Quebec saw a turnout of only 57 per cent, the lowest in the province in 70 years. Voters in Quebec do not have the right to decline their vote and Premier Jean Charest's recent decision to hold the election on September 4 puts many voters in a difficult position.
"With a 70-year low in voter turnout Elections Quebec and the provincial government should have taken important steps toward increasing turnout in the next election, which will be held in less than a month." Said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. "Unfortunately it doesn't look as though they're taking this problem seriously -- instead of implementing a fixed election date Premier Charest picked a time for the election advantageous to him, even though it is when many people are on holiday, helping their children get ready for school, or moving for college or university."
In addition to Quebec voters being given the right to decline their ballots and establishing a fixed-election date, the most important changes the Quebec parties can make to increase turnout are as follows:
- pass an honesty-in-politics law that gives voters an easy, low-cost way to file complaints to an ethics commissioner, and gives the commissioner the power to penalize misleaders (and requires MNAs who switch parties in-between elections to resign and run in a by-election)
- change the voting system so that the percentage of MNAs each party receives more closely matches the popular vote percentages
These two changes would give voters a reason to vote because they would know that voting for a specific party would mean a guaranteed result in terms of percentage of MNAs elected and promises kept.
In addition, if the parties strengthened provincial ethics, political finance, lobbying, open government, and whistleblower protection laws, voters would have more reason to vote because they would be more assured of good government no matter which party won.
"More and more voters know from their experience of the past few decades of elections that they are not going to get what they vote for, and are likely to get dishonest, secretive, unethical, unrepresentative, and wasteful government no matter who they vote for, and as a result no one should be surprised to see voter turnout dropping lower and lower," said Sommers.
These problems exist in all the provinces and territories across Canada. All of these changes should be made by the federal and provincial and territorial governments, and for their municipalities, before either mandatory or Internet voting are tried (because both of those have likely serious negative effects).