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vote low, rep high

October 15, 2008

Alienation, what alienation? Voting gets harder, a record number of Canadians don’t bother, and half the population wins less than a quarter of the seats. Both Democracy Watch and Equal Voice have some suggestions about how to de-dismalize the sorry state this election shows our democracy to be in.

the good(ish) news

A new record for the number of women elected as members of Parliament: a whopping 68 of the 308 seats in the House. Almost 25%! For roughly 50% of the population!

2008 – 68 women | 22%
2006 – 64 women | 21%

Kerry Gillespie of the Toronto Star writes, “Canada may have elected its first woman to the House of Commons, Agnes MacPhail, in 1921, but it has now fallen far behind leading European Asia and African countries that elect far more women.”

According to Equal Voice, among world democracies, Canada will now rank 46th: “[T]he showing for women was disappointing considering that more women ran than ever before – they were 29 per cent of the total candidates.”

Here at, we don’t feel it's time quite yet to break out the bubbly and celebrate.

women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough
  • 113 – Liberals fielded the biggest number of women candidates
  • 18 – Liberal women were elected MPs
  • 60 – Conservatives had fewer women candidates in the race than the Liberals
  • 23 – Conservative women were elected MPs
  • 15 – Bloc Quebecois women were elected MPs
  • 12 – New Democrats women were elected MPs

— Equal Voice

the very bad news

There have been reports that people were confused, frustrated and unable to vote because of a new rule passed by Parliament that makes voting more difficult. This election, there was also a record low voter turnout.

The stats:

2008 – 59.1% voter turnout: a record low
2004 – 60.9% voter turnout: the previous record low
1958 – 79.4% voter turnout: Canada’s record high
— Figures from

The testimonials:

“You know, 1.4 million young Canadians didn’t vote in the last election. Well, these new rules aren’t making it any easier for students to vote.”
— MARK COFFIN, vice-president of education on the Dalhousie student council

“I think every Canadian should be able to vote. It made me sick to see so many conscientious Canadians not allowed to vote today.”
— PENDRA WILSON, Vancouver polling station representative

“I was … really rallying people to come vote … People who are, like, the toughest demographic to get to come out and vote. I had to come back and say, ‘I can’t vote!’”
— ANGEL HALL, Whitehorse resident who works with young aboriginal people. She had encouraged people to vote yesterday. She was turned away from the poll herself, because she didn’t have the identification now required to vote.

room for improvement ... a lot of room ... I hear echoes, even

“Despite the result, we are pleased all parties tried harder. We see many signs of growing awareness by Canadians that we need more women in elected office. We urge Prime Minister Harper to respond by appointing women to half the cabinet positions – and ensuring that women are represented well among the senior ministries.”
— RAYLENE LANG-DION, national chair of Equal Voice

“Our goal is unchanged – we want fair representation of women in Parliament. That means we need ALL parties nominating at least one third women, as the Liberals and NDP managed to do, and even better will be the day when half or more of the parties’ candidates are women. Only then will women be full partners in running our country.”
— ROSEMARY SPEIRS, Equal Voice founding chair

Democracy Watch is calling for changes to the Elections Act. Here are only a few of their suggestions:

  • give voters the right to refuse their ballot (as is legal in Ontario and Alberta elections) so that voters can vote for “none of the above” (and require Elections Canada to feature this right in all their election promotion materials)
  • change the voting system to ensure a Parliament that accurately reflects each party’s voter support (while ensuring small parties do not have undue power)
  • reduce the voter identification requirement to one piece of ID with name and address, and increase opportunities to register as a voter even on election day
  • empower Elections Canada to make merit-based decision about leaders debates
  • require the media to report equally all survey numbers, especially undecided voters, to end the misleading hype of polls often seen in the past three elections

Advocates aim to get more women in cabinet, by KERRY GILLESPIE, Toronto Star | October 15, 2008

external download icon Equal Voice urges PM to boost women in Cabinet as women elected to Parliament crack 21 per cent barrier (pdf download, 97.45 KB), Equal Voice media release | October 14, 2008

Voter turnout drops to record low, | October 15, 2008

New ID rules cause confusion at polls, | October 14, 2008

Illegal Federal Election Shows Clear Need For Changes to Increase Turnout, and Ensure Honesty, Fairness, Ethics and Representation, Democracy Watch | October 15, 2008

Voter Identification at the Polls, Elections Canada


  • Seasonal Feature

  • April 1994: the night raid at Kingston’s Prison for Women

    by Sierra Bacquie

    There was supposed to be a new approach to the Correctional Service of Canada’s relationship to female offenders, who were promised responsible choices, respect, dignity, supportive environments, and shared responsibility. But on the night of April 26, eight women experienced humiliation, degradation, raw fear and trauma at the hands of an all-male emergency team. How did this happen? What has changed since?  read more