Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Elections

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Elections

Article excerpt

John C. Courtney, Elections (Vancouver: UBC Press), xvii + 201pp. Cloth. $65.00. ISBN 0-7748-0917-5. Paper. $22.95. ISBN 0-7748-0918-3.

The book is one of nine produced as an audit on democracy on Canada. Courtney examines 'the five building blocks' of the Canadian electoral system: the franchise (the right to vote), electoral districts (or ridings), voter registration, election machinery and plurality voting, better known as the 'first past the post' (FPTP) election system. In Courtney's view, 'Compared with Canada's nineteenth and early twentieth century elections and with the current election practices of many other countries, Canada's electoral system stands up well' (p. 127).

Although the Canadian electoral system is based on the 'Westminster model', the issues facing democracy in Canada are not the same as in the UK. Not only is Canada essentially a five-party system, but the vastness of Canada's territory with most of the population concentrated in a handful of metropolitan areas presents a challenge in ensuring fairness in the drawing up of electoral districts. If boundaries were drawn to ensure that each riding had the same number of voters then some districts would be even larger than they currently are, hence the votes of urban residents generally count less than those of rural voters.

Critics of the FPTP system argue that it enables parties to win a majority of seats in parliament with a minority of votes cast (the Liberals won in 51.5 per cent of seats with only 38.5 per cent of the vote in 1997). However, drawing on evidence from countries with alternative election systems, the author concludes that these do not (as is sometimes claimed) address the proportions of women or minorities elected and do not increase voter turnout. …

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