Why Canadians Don’t Vote
Update^5 (April 4,2011): Well #elxn41 is on and this is still the second the most popular page ever at Pop The Stack having been viewed over a thousand times (Only my smash hit voteTO map mashup beats it). Last time I checked this page came up third when you searched Google for “Canadians Don’t Vote”. Will more people vote than last time? I am confident the answer is yes…I’m also always confident about that because this election is soooo important. They’re all important…especially this one But I’m always wrong, I’m always more disappointed and depressed after the election that even more people didn’t vote this time than last time. Statistically I have to admit that I’ll probably be disappointed once again this year. Hopefully I’m wrong, here’s a new video of Rick Mercer hoping the same thing:
How are we going to get more people to vote? What does democracy mean if less than 50% of the population is choosing the government? This and other questions are discussed in this largely pointless article in the Globe and Mail today. The real question is, how are Canadians ever going to fix what is wrong in our country if the media won’t do its job and assist in creating a national discussion on the real issue?
Why don’t Canadians vote? I’ll tell you why, because Canadians aren’t stupid and they see that after voting again and again their vote has no impact. They see that they can’t actually vote for who they want to represent them. Instead they must vote for who will keep the worst party out, whichever party that is to them. People see that election after election, millions of voters don’t have any influence on the makeup of parliament. This may be because they live in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal and there aren’t enough Conservative voters like them to win a whole seat. Or perhaps their vote is wasted because they live in Quebec and they don’t vote for the Bloc in a Bloc riding. Maybe their vote is wasted because they live in Alberta and they vote for anyone other than the Conservative party. Or maybe they are someone who believes the Earth as we know it is dying and that Canada is not doing enough, so they can’t bring themselves to vote for anyone other than Green. In that case, it doesn’t matter where they live, in Newfoundland or BC, in the Yukon or in Toronto, their vote simply has no influence on the makeup of parliament at all even though this includes about 10% of the country.
There are a lot of reasons to be depressed about voting, voting sucks. It’s simply not working. It’s not working for most Canadians and so it’s not surprising that very many Canadians are choosing not to bother when the time comes around again.
I believe voting is important. I always vote and I will continue to do so even though its very possible my vote will be wasted. I do it for the principle of democracy and for the right to complain about the result we got. But I understand the frustration that leads to not voting. So I would ask every Canadian who didn’t vote in the last election to consider why they don’t vote. Really be honest with yourself, no one else will know. There are only two sets of reasons:
I don’t vote because I was busy, I forgot, it just doesn’t matter, politicians are all crooks anyways, you can’t change anything, it’s all money, bla, bla, bla.
In other words, you were lazy and you just don’t care enough. It’s easier for you to think someone else has all the power and that lets you off the hook for taking any responsibility. Too bad. You are responsible for the governments we get just as much as everyone who voted. Not voting is its own choice and influences who wins just as much as a vote. All not voting does is give more weight to those who do bother to vote. More and more the only people who bother are extreme partisan supporters of each party. This is why our politics gets more divisive every year. And its your fault. Because your entire protest is to disconnect from the machine and let other people deal with it.
I don’t vote because my vote doesn’t count, I cannot determine who to strategically vote for, I refuse to play that game and gamble with my vote. I will not betray my principles and vote for a party I despise to avoid one that I despise even more. I want to change the system so that my vote counts. I contribute to this change concretely by campaigning for electoral reform, discussing the importance of some form of proportional representation with family, friends and online or at the very least contributing to organizations who do these things (such as Fair Vote Canada). I will not allow the parties and interests in power to misrepresent the reasons for ‘voter apathy’. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I care too much to validate this broken, unrepresentative electoral system that only encourages regional factionalism in our country and tends towards extreme interests gaining power.
If that is you, then we’re cool. I get it, and I respect it. As long as you declare that you would participate in a democratic system that was functional rather than the dysfunctional mess we have now, as long as you are doing something to get us to that change we need, then I will fight with you. I will keep voting, vote swapping and strategic voting, but I won’t berate you for not doing so and together I hope we will someday fix what is wrong with this great country. For ourselves and whether they like it or not for the good of all those lazy bums who plug out and even for those power hungry insiders who don’t want change. A more representative democracy will help all Canadians whether they believe in representative democracy or not.
Update: Great article on this topic from Rick Mercer. He agrees voter apathy isn’t just laziness but he thinks its primarily because of bad leadership. I agree that’s a big part of it but a system that actually counted and used the votes cast would have very different incentives on who ran for leadership. It would be easier for good people to win out when every vote counts.
Update Update: One of the ways to get electoral reform is to get some national leader behind it. We need someone desperate enough to try something crazy, in hopes it will make them look inspiring and changerific like Obama. I wonder if we have anyone like that here? Sign this twitter petition to ask Ignatieff and Liberals to make a commitment to electoral reform one of their top priorities.
Update³: Yesterday, in Calgary, at least two amazing things happened. One was, the first muslim ever was elected to be mayor of a major Canadian city, Naheed Nenshi. Way to go Calgary. The second amazing thing was that in a tightly fought race with three real choices voter turnout went up tremendously to the dizzying heights of 50% of the voter public. That sounds bad, but last election it was closer to 35% in Calgary and municipal elections in general have very low turnout. Nenshi got out an excited base of voters by using social media, connecting with young people and not talking down to voters. Something politicians across the country should take as a lesson.
Update^4: This post is now by far the most read post ever on Pop The Stack, so it must be something people care about.