Democracy in the 21st Century: A Charter Challenge to Force Electoral Reform

By MacIvor, Heather | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Autumn 2006 | Go to article overview

Democracy in the 21st Century: A Charter Challenge to Force Electoral Reform


MacIvor, Heather, Canadian Parliamentary Review


Despite their intrinsically political nature, election laws which infringe the Charter are as susceptible to court review and remedy as any other type of statute. Recent events in several provinces and in Ottawa indicate that the executive and legislative branches of government are reluctant to proceed with meaningful electoral reform. The time has come for advocates of change to take their chances with the judicial branch.

The most effective attack on the Single Member Plurality (SMP) system would be to challenge sections 68(1) and 313(1) of the Canada Election Act. Section 68(1) enshrines the single-member aspect of our electoral system, which is reinforced by the requirement in s.313(1) that only one candidate can be elected in a given constituency. The latter section also prescribes the plurality formula for determining the winner. Because these are the two defining characteristics of SMP, those sections are the logical targets of a Charter challenge.

The strongest legal argument is that SMP infringes the guarantee of democratic rights in s.3 of the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada has identified two purposes of the right to vote: (a) the right of each citizen to "effective representation" in the legislature, and (b) "the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process".

The guarantee of "effective representation" means the right to have "a voice in the deliberations of government" and "the right to bring one's grievances and concerns to the attention of one's government representative"-in other words, to have an elected "ombudsman" responsible for assisting constituents in their dealings with the federal government.

"Effective representation" entails "relative parity of voting power": "A system which dilutes one citizen's vote unduly as compared with another citizen's vote runs the risk of providing inadequate representation to the citizen whose vote is diluted." Where the unequal weighting of votes is not required to ensure better government, "dilution of one citizen's vote as compared with another's should not be countenanced."

The guarantee of "a meaningful role in the selection of elected representatives" benefits both the individual citizen and the electorate as a whole. The process of collectively choosing the legislature "enhance[s] the quality of democracy in this country" and ensures that public policy" is sensitive to the needs and interests of a broad range of citizens." This purpose also animates the second right guaranteed by s.3: "The right to run for office provides each citizen with the opportunity to present certain ideas and opinions to the electorate as a viable policy option; the right to vote provides each citizen with the opportunity to express support for the ideas and opinions that a particular candidate endorses."

The contextual approach explains why the guarantees in s.3, which refer only to individual voters and candidates, have also been applied to political parties. Parties provide the context within which most Canadians exercise their rights to vote and to run for public office. Consequently, a successful Charter challenge to SMP must go beyond the infringement of individual rights, and target the ways in which our electoral system benefits some political parties while harming others.

We know that SMP benefits larger and more regionally-concentrated parties at the expense of smaller parties and those with regionally-dispersed support. In so doing, it infrinqes the rights of individual voters in three ways:

* It violates the guarantee of "effective representation" by denying the supporters of some parties "a voice in the deliberations of government".

* It violates the requirement of "relative voter parity". For example, "In the 1993 election, it took 34.36 times as many PC voters as Liberal voters to elect a candidate."

* It deters some voters from casting ballots for their preferred party or candidate, because they know that their vote will not affect the outcome of the election. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Democracy in the 21st Century: A Charter Challenge to Force Electoral Reform
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.