I’m still shaping the structure of this blog and am unsure of what I will ultimately be using it to post – if there will be any formula at all. I’ve had blogs in the past including one for a literacy in technology class I took in college as well as a personal one – both methods had merit as the class one was tightly focused on class projects etc., while my personal one was littered with anecdotes from different video games I was playing, books I was reading and scraps from short stories I was working on. I’ll consider what I’d like to do and likely let it slowly take shape, please bear with me!
However, for now I thought I’d write for now on a topic I’ve been thinking about a great deal in the past couple of years, and which I will likely keep coming back to as I write here.
Across Canada (and other countries with a first-past-the-post system, such as the United States) voting turn-out hovers around 60%. At every level of government, citizens just aren’t coming out to the polls – I heard that in our last city election, London came out at a rate of close to 40%. Why is that? And how can we possibly change this? I believe this is a question we should all ask.
One of the things that got me dwelling on this topic was Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May’s book “Losing Confidence”. In it she isn’t making an argument that Canada had a by-gone Golden Age of bipartisan cooperation, but that since 2006 civility in the House has taken an even steeper nose-dive. She argues that lack of decorum coupled with our existing election structure (which has produced many false majorities in recent decades, including 2 of Jean Chretien’s majority governments) is what is turning Canadians away from the polls. Elizabeth argues that while we continue a first-past-the-post system that sets everyone who didn’t vote for the right “side” (party) as not likely to be fairly represented in the House, people are less likely to vote. She points to European (and other) countries with a form of proportional representation and how their voting turn-outs are often beyond 90%. But changing voting methods takes time, and great political will. Still, I believe it is something we as a nation should consider and have an honest conversation about.
Meanwhile, we’re watching as a political drama unfolds about suspected “robo calls” that occurred in the last federal election that apparently were used to dissuade voters from going to their polling stations. Susan Delacourt (@SusanDelacourt), the Toronto Star Senior Writer in Ottawa, published this article today. In it she said:
“Voter suppression” is the alleged purpose of the calls. The idea was that if you phoned people, told them the voting location had changed, they’d just decide it was too much of a hassle to go and cast a ballot. Think about that for a second. To pull this off with any success, you had to count on people being so lazy, busy or disengaged that they’d throw away their democratic franchise because of a minor inconvenience. Cynical? Or just realistic?
Sadly, I believe this is fairly realistic. I’ve met many people that are just “too busy to vote” – for a year in college I lived in a basement apartment where the landlady lived above. She was a committed citizen that worked hard, went to karate and other programs in the city and raised two children. On federal election day in 2008 I asked her to vouch for me at the polling station because my ID was for my parent’s address. She came with me, but confessed that she didn’t want to vote. “I don’t know who any of these people are, or what they stand for”, she said. It’s not that she wasn’t connected to her community, but when it came to election time she gave a sheepish shrug, saying “I know I should care, but I already have so much to worry about.” So, how do we connect our right to vote with making a contribution to how our country is run, and who stands in City Hall, Queen’s Park or the House of Commons to represent us? And how do we make it worthwhile to make it a part of our ever-increasingly hectic lives?
Statistics Canada also released a very relevant study today available here on factors associated with voting. As expected voting turn-out among younger Canadians is much lower than the average. This is one factor I particularly struggle with, as I know this occurred despite the best efforts of some. I and many other London youth participated in Rick Mercer’s “Vote Mob” event in Victoria Park ahead of the May 2 vote to encourage young people to come out to the polls. I know that this particular election created especial obstacles as it happened as students were returning home after the post-secondary school season, but this is a chronic problem in all Canadian elections. I hope that new and creative ways can be found to make civil engagement as well as the election process more accessible and attractive to younger Canadians, though I struggle to imagine what methods could be used.
Part of what spurred me to finally create this (I’d been thinking about starting this for some time) was my experience at City Hall last Tuesday as I watched the budget approval process. I’m still putting together my impression of that occurrence although better minds (Gina Barber/@GinaBarber_W9 and Philip McLeod/@philipmcleod, as two examples) have already written excellent posts on what happened. One thought that stuck with me was one expressed by City Councillor for Ward 8 Paul Hubert at a citizen meeting for people concerned about the slated cuts – Paul mentioned that we were a group of citizens that were reading into what was taking place, and discussing across social media like facebook and Twitter. However, after that meeting he was going to watch his child play hockey, in an arena full of people that likely didn’t know about the concerns we had. We can talk online, share a survey Paul prepared, but we’re not getting any closer to talking with these citizens which are just as valid as us. So the question is – how do people concerned about citizen engagement meet other citizens where they are? We’re not likely to do so from our computers.
This is something that continues to trouble me, and something I think we all need to consider. I have many questions but precious few answers, I’d love to hear yours if you have some. I hope through this writing to connect with more Londoners and hear their thoughts. Let’s have a conversation.