Premier Doug Ford has been a very busy man. In the two months since his election, he has eliminated the Ministry of Francophone Affairs and the Ministry of the Status of Women, backed away from the funding of refugee resettlement, cancelled Ontario’s basic income pilot project, and delayed new vaccine reporting requirements.
More recently, he has announced that he plans to cut Toronto City Council in half, in the middle of the municipal election. He intends to use the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that, if invoked, allows the province to ignore the Charter and override court rulings that would strike down the Ford government’s decision for its questionable constitutionality. This is the first time that clause has been used in Ontario.
This article, however, is not about the Ford government’s actions (though for the record, I think all of them are terrible). Instead, I’m writing this to highlight something: in the 2018 Ontario election, only 58% of the population actually voted, which, embarrassingly, was actually a record high number for voter participation in Ontario. 40% of that 58% voted for Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party, that means only 23% of all eligible voters in Ontario voted for the current provincial government.
None of what Ford is doing is illegal. As much as I dislike it, there is nothing in Canadian law nor the Charter that prohibits Ford from doing anything he’s done.
The problem is that the system is broken, and it’s broken for a simple reason: People don’t vote.
The idea behind democracy is that we, the people, make our concerns known. Once our concerns are known, politicians try to convince us to vote for them by acting on those concerns. If we believe them, then we vote for them, which allows them to be our leaders. In this way, we have influence on the government and make it work for us. In other words, our system is one that assumes that most people vote. That is why Doug Ford has the power to do everything that he’s done; he has a majority government, giving him full power over the Ontario legislature, assumed to have been won by capturing the vote of more than half of the population, maybe 60 percent. But not even 60 percent of the province voted. As a result, we have a mismatch between power wielded and votes earned. That’s a broken system.
So, how do we fix it? A lot of the problems arise from our first-past-the-post election system, which allows governments to win seats in the parliament way out of proportion of their vote share. For example, in this election, achieving 40% of all votes enabled the PCs to claim 72% of the seats. While remedying this is not really in our immediate control, what we can do instead is vote. Participate. If a government wins a majority, let’s makes it so that it actually has something close to a majority of the votes.
Let’s also ensure that governments have to listen to us when we make our voice heard. Why should the government pay attention to student issues if students consistently don’t vote? Voting blocs have power. There is a reason the middle class is always addressed by politicians, and one of them is that the middle class consistently turns up to vote. If we don’t exercise this right, what is the point of living in a democracy at all?