Enough is Enough – All votes should have equal weight

2017-03-16

In the old days, before Confederation, only males owning a certain amount of property could vote and no Catholics were allowed to vote. By today’s standards that is shockingly unfair, but that is the way it was.

After Confederation, the right to vote depended on which province you lived in, but in all provinces, you had to be a male British subject 21 years or older and with a property qualification.

It wasn’t until 1920 that the Dominion Elections Act established a Canada-wide standard for voting in Federal elections. Only two years earlier were women finally given the right to vote. However, the rules for provincial elections varied from province to province. Women gained the right to vote in Manitoba in 1916, but not until 1940 in Quebec, the last province to enfranchise women.

Discrimination in Canada was not only against women. For most of the first half of the 20th century Canadians of Asian origin were not able to vote federally or provincially. In Quebec, non-Status Indians were not given the right to vote until 1969, again the last province to do so.

I suppose most readers are wondering what this history has to do with voting rights today. Now, all Canadians age 18 or over have the right to vote, but are all votes equal? In particular, has our Quebec government found new ways to give more weight to some classes of voters than to others? Indeed they have, and it has been going on for decades.

In Quebec, electoral districts can vary in number of voters by plus or minus 25%. For example, if the average district has 60,000 voters, the largest could have 75,000 voters and the smallest 45,000 voters. That means that the smaller ridings collectively end up electing far more MNAs than the larger ridings. The argument for this is that the smaller ridings cover a much larger area and thus can’t be any larger since candidates would have too far to travel. That may have been true in the horse and buggy days, but with modern communications and fast modes of transportation it is no longer true. Consider Manitoba (the first province to enfranchise women). They have many vast rural ridings, but they permit ridings to vary in size by no more than 10% and, in fact, most vary by less than 5%.

It would be bad enough if rural voters had more electoral power than urban voters, but it is much worse than that. Rural ridings have very few anglophone and allophone residents. They are also predominantly Catholic. So, the current system discriminates against several religious and ethnic groups, Anglophones, and those who live in larger cities. This is an affront to the concept of one person, one vote.

Now let’s look at the new Quebec electoral map.  Amongst other flaws, it drops one riding from the island of Montreal thus reducing our electoral clout even more. It expands our D’Arcy-McGee riding, which consisted of two natural communities, Hampstead and Côte Saint-Luc to include parts of NDG/Côte-des-Neiges and makes it one of the larger ridings in the province. It combines Mount Royal and Outremont to create a new super- size riding on the island. It splits the Hassidic Jewish community into two ridings, weakening their voting power.  In Laval, it splits the Greek community to the same effect. In other words, the Electoral Commission has made things even worse than they were before. Why? Because they won’t even consider combining rural ridings. That is the way it has been for decades so it must be OK. The same argument used to disenfranchise women, non-land owners, Asians and non-Status Indians in the past.

Well it is time to right this injustice. There are two possibilities to do this.

The National Assembly can change the law and allow ridings to vary by no more than 10%, just like a beacon of democracy – Manitoba. However, it won’t happen because any government who does this will lose votes in the rural ridings where elections are decided.

So, our last resort is the courts where a constitutional challenge may very well succeed.

Show your support by coming out to a public consultation Tuesday, March 21, at 7 pm, at 6767 Côte-des-Neiges.