Voter turnout has been taking a nosedive over the past fifteen years because 1. the Canada Elections Act put a 36-day minimum on campaigning, and 2. the federal parties figured out that if you have $50 million dollars to spend over an election campaign it’s better value to do it over 36 days instead of 70.
Just twenty years ago voter turnout was 75.3%. The Liberal Party called elections in 1997, 2000, 2004 and 2006, all of which ran the absolute bare minimum of thirty-six days. Voter turnout since 1997 has fallen below 70% each year until this years 59% turnout (1997: 67%; 2000: 61.2%, 2004: 60.9%, 2006: 64.7%).
What has increased over the same amount of time, however, is ideology over policy as election strategy. Instead of having reasoned debate and time to understand what the policies are, Canadian politics has been reduced to leaders literally accusing each other of wanting to destroy the country. In all four elections, including the one the Liberals lost in 2004, the only platform that mattered was “hidden agenda”. As in “they” have one, and only the “I” can keep you safe from it.
The issue in all four elections was the same: fear. There were no substantial reasons for the 1997, 2000 and 2004 elections, for example, other than the ruling governments believed the opposition parties were in enough disarray an election victory was guaranteed. And they were short because longer elections left too many variables, while the shortest possible election meant more weight to platitudes and one-liners.
Because there’s no time to lay out new policies, or discuss and even change them. Shorter election times means spending more time pre-election demonizing your opponent so we “get” their message in the short campaign. Shorter election times mean ideologues are given the opportunity to set the agenda, and with such a low minimum keeping the electorate as uninvolved as possible has become a strategy.
Since the 1993 election Canadians have decided the makeup of our government based on no platforms, no serious debate and at the whim of whichever special interest group can whip up a concert overnight.
Before the 1993 election — then the shortest at 47 days, and with a 69.6% turnout — Canada had some of the largest voter turnouts of any democracy. Now, after four consecutive 36-day elections, we don’t. Increase the minimum, force the parties to defend their platform over a significant time, and give people time to figure out what’s going on and the numbers will go back up.
* This is mostly in response to some comments on Thorora’s blog. She’s thinking of moving to Sweden, so I thought I’d offer an alternative because, really, Sweden sucks.