A vote is a vote is a vote, right? Well, maybe not: U of T law professor Sujit Choudhry and law student Michael Pal recently found that not all votes carry the same weight in Canada, and they say it’s eroding the country’s democracy.
“There are two types of inequality in the House of Commons,” says Choudhry. “The first is that the largest and fastest-growing provinces – Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia – are underrepresented in the House. Secondly, there’s been a tendency to systematically overrepresent rural voters as opposed to urban voters.” The goal, he says, was to ensure that less populous provinces and rural minorities received fair representation in parliament. But Choudhry and Pal believe this system is now making Canada’s democratic system increasingly unequal, and that visible-minority voters are being left behind.
“Immigrants are largely from visible-minority communities,” Choudhry says, “and as it turns out, those visible-minority immigrants are settling in precisely the areas of Canada that are underrepresented in the House of Commons.” For instance, Kenora – the smallest electoral riding in Ontario – is a predominantly rural riding with a population of 60,570. Mississauga East-Cooksville, an urban riding with a large visible-minority immigrant population, registers at 122,565. Yet both have equal weight in the House, with one member of Parliament each. The net result is that urban visible-minority immigrants generally have less voting power in government.
To help ensure fair representation – for visible minorities, urbanites and residents of the three largest provinces – Choudhry and Pal propose creating more seats in parliament for Ontario, Alberta and B.C., and amending legislation to ensure that electoral districts are drawn to stricter population guidelines. “The point of our paper is that ‘one person, one vote’ should mean something,” says Choudhry. “It’s the benchmark against which we measure democracy.”