The Case for Mandatory
Voting in Canada
by Senator Mac Harb
The decline in voter turnout over the last several elections is of great concern to
everyone interested in politics and parliamentary government. Many ideas have
been put forth about how to address this problem including a recent Bill that would
provide for a system of compulsory voting similar to that used in several other
countries. The following article is based on the speech at second reading by the
sponsor of Bill S-22.
ur democracy depends upon
the active participation of its
citizens, and, while voting is
o n l y o n e e l e me n t o f p o l i ti c a l
engagement, it remains the very
foundation of our ...view middle of the document...
study done after the last election found voter turnout
ranged from 62.7 per cent to 75.4 per cent in the nine ridings with the highest average income in the country. The
nine ridings with the lowest average income experienced
a turnout rate from 45.1 per cent to 61.5 per cent. Whose
voices are being heard? Perhaps, more importantly,
whose voices are not being heard?
Renowned political scientist Arend Lijphart in the
United States put it this way:
A political system with the universal right to vote but
with only a tiny fraction of citizens exercising this right
should be regarded as a democracy in merely a... hollow
sense of the term.
While analysts cite a variety of reasons for the voting
decline including, sadly, disdain for politicians, apathy
about the issues and the hectic demand of modern life, I
believe that the most important factor is a fading sense of
civic duty when it comes to voting and participation in
our democratic institutions.
In preparing for this legislation, I have met and corresponded with a great number of Canadians. A great
many have said it is about time, and that we need this
kind of signal from the government that voting is still an
important element of our system. Of those opposed to
the concept of mandatory voting, the most common criticism is that the bill will restrict an individual’s freedom
to choose whether or not to vote.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer
answered this criticism best when he said, “The right to
vote is only meaningful when you use it.”
In Canada all citizens who are at least 18 years of age
on election day have the right to vote in a general election, with the exception of the Chief Electoral Officer of
Canada. We fought long and hard for this right, overcoming gender, racial, religious or administrative obstacles to ensure women, judges, persons with disabilities
and prisoners in correctional facilities were given the
right to vote. After years of battling for the right to vote,
we have lost sight of the associated duty that goes along
with this right, and that is the inherent responsibility to
Voting is a positive duty owed by citizens to the rest of
our society, much like paying taxes, reporting for jury
duty, wearing a seat belt or attending school until the age
of 16. These duties are reasonable limits we put on our
freedom to ensure the success of our society.
This obligation to vote must be accepted as one of the
necessary duties citizens carry out in order to maintain
our system of democracy and the benefits that goes with
it. Other proposals for electoral reform, including lowering the voting age, proportional representation or online
e-voting are all worthy of investigation, but they will not
We must change acquired attitudes and habits of Canadians when it comes to voting. Few methods work
better than legislation when it comes to modifying behaviour for the common good. Seatbelt laws and...