Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Make Your Opinion Known 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday,  May 1 / 11

Zack Gross

Voting is likely most appreciated by those who are least able to do it! 

In countries around the world that don’t allow their people to exercise their democratic rights, or who have “one-party democracies” or rigged elections, or who are just beginning to nurture democratic traditions, voters are excited at the prospect of helping to guide their nation’s way forward, politically, economically and socially.

Canada has taken on a strong role in the world, helping newly democratic nations to deliver elections, for instance training election workers, meeting with citizens to explain and extol democratic principles, printing ballots and overseeing election days. 

Observers from Canada and other democracies have made their presence felt in Asia, Africa and Latin America, often having the last word on how legitimate an “elected” government is or even determining who will govern.

In West Africa’s Ivory Coast, over the past six months, a national election was held, after which international observers helped to declare the winning candidate. 

The incumbent, losing President then refused to leave office and a military conflict ensued over several months with the legitimate winner finally taking power, after much damage, injury and death.  Now, the winning army has split into factions which are fighting each another.  This is one compelling reason why we need to have faith in our democracy and work to deepen and broaden it for the common good.

Strange then that here in Canada, election turnouts have declined in recent years and our “citizens of tomorrow”, our youth, have generally not participated in the electoral process.  Canadians have become complacent (or cynical) that no matter how they vote, nothing will change, in terms of policies and programs. 

They have a view of Parliament as a place where people yell at one another, and of politicians all being crooks.  Canadians have also allowed themselves to become dumber about their own country, watching American sitcoms and sports, avoiding the news, focusing on celebrities and scandals.

Canadian youth feel that politicians are not talking to them.  First of all, politicians can’t find them, because youth have cell phones, not landlines, and use social media and computers more than televisions and radios. 

The political parties have not found it easy to recruit youth in an age where the idea of membership, in anything, is not as important as it once was. 

Today’s younger generation are shoppers, not voters.  Or they vote with their dollars, not with ballots. 

During the 2008 federal election, only 37% of youth got out to vote, an all-time low.  “Vote mobs” and greater media focus on youth this time may increase those numbers. 

Women may also be less engaged in the political process today, as our federal government boasts fewer women MPs than a decade ago.

From the 2006 election to the 2008 edition, there was a 5% drop in the total vote – from 14,660,000 to 13,686,000 – a drop of almost one million voters!  Only the Green Party, in 2008, picked up more votes than in 2006. 

In 2008, voter turnout by percentage was highest in Prince Edward Island (70%) and New Brunswick (63%) while lowest in our northern territories and Newfoundland (in the 40%s). 

This also points up that aboriginal citizens have little reason, in their own minds, to vote.  They live mostly in abject poverty and are seldom visited by candidates, and many requests they have made for improved housing and other social and economic conditions have gone unanswered.

Viewing a graphic record of voter turnout shows that since a plateau around 80% of registered voters exercising their franchise in the late 1950s and early 1960s, voter turnout has with peaks and valleys, slipped down to 58.8% in 2008. 

Of course, each election can take on a life of its own and what had been expected to be a boring campaign this year – with a foregone conclusion of more of the same as before in Parliament – became more exciting and unpredictable in its final weeks.

“Use it or lose it” is an expression used in many different situations.  That includes our ability to manage our affairs, to connect with the rest of the world and to understand who we are. 

If we take our right to vote seriously, including our responsibility to learn about the issues and party policies, we can help ensure better behavior, more fairness and greater accountability in Ottawa.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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