Saturday, 26 September 2015

Why Do Many Canadians Not Vote?

Many years ago, I remember driving through the Kensington Market neighbourhood of downtown Toronto and seeing some graffiti posted on a brick wall that said, "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."  If I remember correctly, the graffiti post was done by members of a socialist youth group, but I'm not certain.  Regardless of who did do it, the point is that there are people in this country that don't think voting in elections changes anything.  In fact, a lot of people think this way. But there are also a lot of people that think voting is a civic duty and that no one should ever miss the chance to vote in an election, be it municipal, provincial or federal.  Some people even think that voting should be mandatory.  So why such a difference of opinion on exercising one of our fundamental democratic rights?

Chances are that the people who tend to stay away from the polls and think voting doesn't change anything are people who feel disenfranchised; people who believe that no one standing for election cares about them.  But who are these people?  Well, in most places where people do enjoy the right to elect their leaders, the usual suspects among non-voters are the poor, marginalized ethnic or religious groups, and almost always young people under the age of 30.  So it's no surprise that in Canada, if you're young, poor, aboriginal or perhaps more than one of these things, you're less likely to cast a ballot come election time.

The people who do tend to show up at the polls are, at least in my opinion, mostly folks who do believe that the candidates up for election will represent their views and concerns - at least to an extent.  These are often the same people who will tell you that if you don't vote, you forfeit the right to complain about the issues because you failed to show up at the ballot box.

Personally, I think if you have the right to vote, you should exercise it.  I make it a point to vote in every municipal, provincial and federal election and have done so since I was in my early 20's.  This includes the most recent Ontario provincial election when I "declined" my ballot, which in effect meant that I voted none of the above.  But hey, I still showed up, which is more than I can say for almost half of the eligible voters who didn't cast a ballot in that election.  So do I agree with the argument that failing to vote means forfeiting your right to complain?  I most certainly do not, for a number of reasons.

Say, for example, that in the upcoming federal election, there is a candidate in your riding that you think deserves your vote.  So what's stopping you from going to the polls and casting a ballot for him or her?  Well, how about the fact that the candidate you want to vote for is running for a party that has no chance of winning in your riding.  After all, even if you do vote for that person, you'll be throwing your vote away because not only does he or she not get elected, but since Canada still uses the ridiculously antiquated first-past-the-post, winner-take-all electoral system, which has been abandoned by most mature democracies, your vote won't even make a difference in how seats are distributed in the House of Commons.  Think about this and you realize that voting for the person you want is a waste of time.

Heck, even if your ideal candidate is running for a party that will have seats in the next parliament, you still might be wasting your time going to the polls.  Your chosen candidate may, for instance, be a New Democrat, and I think it's safe to say that there will be NDP members in the next parliament. But before you start trotting off to the ballot box to vote for the Orange Crush, remember that you're in a riding full of staunch Conservative voters, and based on what the opinion polls are saying, the NDP has virtually no chance of winning in your riding, which means that by voting for an NDP candidate, you'll basically be throwing your vote away.  The same goes for someone who wants to vote for a Conservative candidate, but lives in downtown Toronto where the lefties rule the roost.

Now of course, there are municipal elections where candidates don't run on party tickets.  But as most of us know, municipal politicians don't even have half the power that their provincial and federal counterparts do.  Let's face it, folks, the real power is based in Canada's provincial capitols and Ottawa.  And worse still, that power isn't even in the hands of the candidates you cast ballots for.  It's in the hands of their party leaders, who don't give a damn about what their backbenchers think.  So perhaps you're full of joy when your favourite Liberal Party candidate wins in your riding, because you know that he or she is just as opposed to allowing abortions as you are.  Then you find out that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau told his caucus a long time ago that anti-abortion votes in the House of Commons won't be tolerated.  To make a long story short, the person who won the election in your riding with the help of votes from people like you can't even represent you properly because he or she is too busy towing the party line.  When you realize this, you might be asking yourself why you bothered to vote at all.

I think it's safe to say that if folks who believe that voting in elections is a duty read this, they will probably tell me that we can't take our democratic rights for granted and that we should exercise these rights in the name of all of those brave people who fought and died so that we could keep them.  To these people, my response is that we've already taken our democratic rights granted.  We've taken them for granted by allowing party discipline to get so draconian that our elected politicians represent their party leaders rather than us, and by allowing the continuation of an electoral system that perverts the will of the people, gives more representation to parties that don't deserve it, and gives little representation, if any, to people and parties that do.    


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