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John Ibbitson replies to your comments: How to cure voter apathy


The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief will be responding to a selection of reader comments throughout the election campaign. Today, John Ibbitson replies to your take on his weekend column, Five reasons Ottawa is turning you off.

From reader Ped Xing: "In Australia voting is mandatory - would be interesting to see the result in Canada if that were the case."

John Ibbitson: I have written in the past in favour of mandatory voting. (Those interested can try to hunt down a copy of Polite Revolution: Perfecting the Canadian Dream.) There's no reason to believe that Australian voters cast a less-informed ballot because they are compelled to vote.

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But my thinking has evolved on this, which is another way of saying I've changed my mind. It's not that I oppose mandatory voting now; I'm agnostic on the issue. But the far greater challenge is to reform the mandate of the federal government, so that its powers are more clearly relevant to citizens--hence my suggestion that responsibility for regulation and certification be given to Ottawa, along with the power (which it might actually already have) to enforce an internal economic union.

Beyond that, the federal political parties need to soul-search (and body search), asking themselves why younger voters are so disengaged and what they could do in terms of both leadership and platforms to connect with them.

Culture matters more than rules.

From reader Guy_Fawkes: "John, where's the broken electoral system in your list? I didn't see it there, although it should have been at the very top. The number 1 reason why people are angry, apathetic and frustrated, is that the voting system does not properly register their vote.

"If it DID properly register their vote, they would see the election outcome reflect the way Canadians voted. The current system DOES NOT DO THIS, and YOU KNOW IT, John.

"So please stop with the distractions and write a proper article about how our broken, 800 year old voting system needs to be overhauled and replaced with the Law Commission of Canada's recommended update: Mixed Member Proportional."

John Ibbitson: Guy Fawkes (nice to have a day named after you) makes, in his own way, the same suggestion as Ped Xing: the system is broken; let's change the system. And my answer is also much the same. In this case, circumstances dictated a change of view. I supported the Law Reform Commission's report and enthusiastically followed the Citizen's Assembly in British Columbia, which proposed in 2005 that the province adopt the Single Transferable Vote model.

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The problem is, the voters don't want it. Not one but two referendums in B.C. failed to meet the threshold. Similar referendums in Ontario and Prince Edward Island also resulted in a No. Critics complained that in all cases the bar was too high. But you can't make such a substantial change without a broad consensus, and it doesn't exist. Proportional representation is at a dead end.

The real tragedy, to my mind, was that the federal parties colluded to kill Bill C-12, which would have given Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta the extra seats needed make their representation in the House reflect the size of their populations. I wrote about that in Saturday's story and detailed the machinations behind the bill's defeat here.

This is a reform that is both realistic and attainable, which is the only kind of reform worth wasting time on. Voters in these provinces should be holding political candidates' feet to the fire on this issue.

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