Making votes count

Most of the 16,057 Yukoners who voted during Monday's federal election may as well have stayed home. So argue proponents of reforming Canada's electoral system. Conservative Ryan Leef won 5,422 ballots, or 33.

Most of the 16,057 Yukoners who voted during Monday’s federal election may as well have stayed home.

So argue proponents of reforming Canada’s electoral system.

Conservative Ryan Leef won 5,422 ballots, or 33.8 per cent of the vote. That leaves 10,635 voters whose ballots, split between the Liberals, Greens and New Democrats, do not count under our current, first-past-the-post method of picking our member of Parliament.

Nationally, the Conservatives won 39.6 per cent of the popular vote. Yet this translated into a handy majority, with 167 seats, thanks to vote-splitting between Tory rivals.

David Brekke wants to change this.

The Whitehorse resident served as the federal returning officer for a decade. During that time, he started to suspect there was something seriously wrong with our electoral system.

“To me, democracy is representing all people,” he said.

And, right now, that isn’t happening.

Other countries do things differently. While electoral systems come in many flavours, few countries still use the winner-takes-all method found in Canada.

Brekke and like-minded supporters hope to change this. During the election, white billboards could be spotted at the corners of town that called for an overhaul to our electoral system.

Next week, Yukoners plan to form a chapter of Fair Vote Canada. The group, which advocates for electoral reform, will elect its executive on Thursday, May 12, at 7 p.m. at the Whitehorse Public Library. All are welcome.

Fair Vote Canada doesn’t push one particular electoral model. But Brekke has his favourite. It has the ungainly title of paired-riding proportional/preferential system.

He’s built a website full of bar graphs and eye-glazing descriptions of vote-counting procedures, found at www.electoralchange.ca.

The difficulty of explaining electoral reform may help explain why Ontario, BC and PEI all abandoned efforts to reform their voting methods in recent years.

If the Yukon adopted Brekke’s scheme, it would keep the same number of seats in the legislature. But, save for Old Crow, each riding would be “paired,” effectively doubling the size of constituencies.

Haines Junction would be lumped in with Mayo. Pelly Crossing would merge with Watson Lake. Porter Creek North would join Lake Laberge.

Voters would cast a single ballot. On it, they would rank their preference of candidates, from one to three.

Half of the seats would go to candidates that win a majority of votes. If no candidate won a majority, the second choices of voters would be thrown into a mix, then third, until a majority is reached.

The other half of seats would be divvied up based on the popular support of each party, using a method called proportional representation.

Brekke has crunched the numbers from past Yukon elections and reckons that this method would result in few “wasted” ballots.

Federally, an overhauled electoral system could better represent the Greens, whose support is spread thinly across Canada.

And alternative systems would be more likely to produce minority governments. Brekke sees this as a good thing: minority governments tend to co-operate with the opposition, he said.

Of course, the past minority federal governments led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn’t turn out that way. But Brekke takes a dim view of Harper.

“He wasn’t there to work with the other parties. For him, the focus was power all along.”

Brekke is hopeful that if Yukon overhauled how members are voted into its legislature, “people would be there to govern, not to play power games.”

Brekke faults the current system for declining voter turnout in recent decades. But this appears to be a bigger problem than “wasted” votes.

Declining voter turnout has been observed across the democratic world – including in countries that use proportional representation, albeit to a lesser degree.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.