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Why Canadians Don’t Vote

September 24, 2009

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 about being wrong and will instead be riht this time. Here’s a new video of Rick Mercer hoping the same thing:

Original Post:

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.

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. liamyoung permalink
    September 25, 2009 3:33 am

    I think more people would vote if the following conditions were met:

    1. Our politicians weren’t a pack of losers that would trade their principles for a donout or photo-op;
    2. We could spoil our ballots and Elections Canada would actually track the fact that we’ve spoiled our ballot; and/or
    3. The Rhinoceros Party was back in town.

    Canadian democracy is a sham and you’re right: one of the central issues is the corporate media that deflects from ever talking about it.


    • September 25, 2009 9:27 am

      Thanks liam, I really agree with your second point, tracking spoiled ballots might change the discussion from apathetic voters to protesting voters. I don’t have many politicians I admire, at all, but I don’t believe that everyone in politics is morally bankrupt, they can’t all be. A lot of people get into politics because they want to change things but the system rewards bad behaviour. That’s why we need to change the system. Thanks for the comments.

  2. tina permalink
    November 15, 2009 3:23 pm

    i think the goverment should send all of the immagrants home than maybe ill have job so i can pay my bills

    • November 16, 2009 1:13 am

      right…so how does that relate to why Canadians do or do not vote? And just to clarify, what about immigrants who are citizens, and thus voters, can they stay? (see what I’m doing? I’m trying to link my comment to the topic of the article, its easy! Now you try.)

    • Naz permalink
      March 23, 2010 6:44 am

      Tina, please keep your stupid comments in your pocket. We wouldn’t have jobs if we didn’t have immagrants. You or your parents or grandparents were immigrants so hush…..

  3. Christina permalink
    December 5, 2009 11:12 am

    Just a clarification, Elections Canada does keep track of spoiled ballots – you can find out the percentage of spoiled ballots are every election!

  4. December 6, 2009 12:51 am

    very true Christina! You can check it out here for the last federal election:

    The problem is that spoiled ballots are different than people consciously voting “none of the above” since it includes people who mark their choice unclearly or incorrectly. The media basically doesn’t report how many spoiled ballots there are because of this ambiguity in meaning. It would be much better if there were a choice on the ballot that indicated “I know what I’m doing, I am coming out to vote and I say none of these candidates are worthy of my vote.”

    If we had that it would be really great if it were reported as a normal result, like just another party. Then as the election results pour in you’d see how many people in each riding and across the country are fed up and sending a message.

  5. ogada Jarateng permalink
    December 21, 2009 10:48 pm

    Let’s not talk about voting, Canadians are yearning and willing to vote meaningful serious Parties/politicians to power. None has yet to come up. A recent poll found many would vote the beloved Pierre Trudeau any day! You see, we want Candidates, Leaders who stand for something- not robots on teleprompters. IMHO, Canada needs a new political party for and by the people. ISSUES FOR THE NEW PARTY: 1. Complete take over, full control of our precious non-renewable natural resources that are now being sold by Harper+Iggy+Jack &Co. (Did i here china just bought 60% in Athabasca? then the Saudis can buy it then l sell it to Osama bin ladens &co. ) you see what iam getting at. The transnational corporations that Harper pays due to may be the ones waging fierce battle with our troops in Afghanistan! The Complete control and responsible development of Natural resources by Canadians (COOPERATIVES -BUY SHARES) is a must and is key. No private local/alien corporation should ever have a stake in our natural resources. This shoud appy to all Nations on earth. It is the real change we are talking about at MOVECANADA Movement. these are the principles of NIRMO- the New International resource management order. Corporations can exist but only to be hired on contractual basis. They get paid for job done. they go. You don’t let your roofing company “own” buy a stake in your home? o you? how about letting the mechanic own your car and let you use it for say 1 hour per day, then you climb on top of the CN tower and shout that you own a car! That’s what Harper is doing – he was quoted in Seoul , telling them that Canada is resource rich, yeah… right.. but he forgot to mention that Canadians don’t rip the profit… We must unite to form a new political force/movement. thanks Ogada

  6. May 4, 2010 1:08 pm

    I dont vote because i dont want anything to do with goverenmt , banks ect because its a fraudulant system and i cant participate in defacto laws. I make cash and keep it for myself because i dont care what happens to any goverenmt, next time they should learn that its the people who own the goveenmt and not the other way around, iv learned and im not even concerened in telling everyone that i scam and cheat like every bank or goverenemt , if they stop me then they r going agist God . Goverement courts ect insist on swearing on a bible for the truth yet your swearing to tell the truth on there laws , so they r masking and using god for there own benifits , goverenmts will go down and also banks its time to decipline them.

  7. JohnR permalink
    October 19, 2010 11:45 am

    Ogada: You may need a refresher course on lively, open, innovative, civilized society. Maybe we all do. You would do well to read up on Venezuela as they have really interesting government edicts and programs whereby the government is taking over all the resources and closing all independent media as you might be suggesting. Unfortunately the iron fist of government is looking more like an anvil around everyones neck.

  8. Christian permalink
    April 21, 2011 3:22 pm

    Put all the polling stations in Tim Hortons, and offer a double double for a vote

  9. joe taxpayer permalink
    April 29, 2011 12:23 pm

    The basic problem with politics is using the same system for over a hundred years. It’s outdated and we can have a far more democratic country if we redesign power distribution. The fight over power is just the “snowball” thats been building for years. George Washinton said that politcal parties will be the fall of democracy. Thats what we are seeing now. This the only outcome when less than 0.01% of our people make all the rules for everyone else. It’s too easy to make a grab for power. I am a Canadian small business owner who will never vote in another election that means nothing. People who believe that casting a vote once or twice a year makes them equal with the lords of the manor are diluting themselves. They are sheep. If Canada is ever to be truly free we must all be equal in reality not just on paper or at election time. I am a grad of computer programming and I know for a fact it would be possible to have the first true democracy. It would just take designing hand-held PDA’s to give every person their own vote on every social issue. I say every social issue because obviously financial issues can not be decided by voting, the average Canadian wouldn’t be quafied to make those types of decisions. So keep the politians, just redefine their role in Canadian politics. You have the power to restore Canada to a democracy free of these whinny little babies and their need to be on top of the pile. If their on the top, guess who they are standing on. If you truly want a Canada we can be proud of you’ll put an end to this, and the only way to do that is to make us all equal for the first time in history. If things stay the same I denouce the government of Canada as my government and my family will never partisipate in any election to keep the masses queit. I am tired of paying for their lifestyles with nothing in return. I love Canada like my grandparents taught me to, I hate people who tell us what we need and how much we owe for it. Please make them work for us not us working for them. Anyone else tired of this? This is the first time we have the tech. to give us all a voice. Thinking about it the possibilities for Canada is excitng. If nothing changes to make us eqaul Canadians I’m telling everyone to vote “none of the above” to the Canadian dictatorship (government).
    Here are just a couple of blogs I pulled off the internet about our over paid government. This first one is in response to the riots in Toronto during the multi billion dollar party. (G20):

    The police are the group incharge. They tell us what we can and can’t do and if you don’t listen they declare you unlawful and arrest you. Does anyone think it is proper that they can just change the laws to suit their needs? If you do, you are either a realitive of a cop or your part of the cattle, moooo. During their training police are taught to TAKE CONTROL of any situation. I know I’m diluted but I thought that people who work for us should be under our control. (and not make 2-5 times more than us, but mostly thats the politians of the government.) I lived in Calgary a few years ago and my roommates daughter had accidentally dialed 911. I called them back and told them it was a mistake but they had to send a car anyway, which I understand. When the cop arrived he walked right in, and with his hand on his gun the whole time he began to question myself and my roommate who confirmed the mistake. He then asked if there was anyone else in the house, I said my 7 year old was home from school, sick in bed. The cop said “do you mind if I talk to her”, I said yes because she’s sick and sleeping. Now the cop didn’t have control of the situation so his atitude changed and he unclipped his gun holster and said ” I don’t need your permission, that was just being polite”. He commanded me to walk in front of him to my daughters room where he went in and woke her up. Dazed and confused she confirmed what I said and the part I love is my seven year old daughter told him to get out of her room before she pukes on him. After 30mins of his crap and commandments I said “all of this over a mistake that any monkey could have seen in five minutes, please get the **** out of my house”. The cop said “how would you like to be arrested” I said “for what” he said “it’s a long way to the station, Ill think of something”. I said “do you know your a public servant and you work for me.” He said “this is my country, I tell YOU what, where and when, You just live here.”Democracy in Canada died for me that day. Since then my parents, grand parents, friends, just about everyone has simular stories. Combine those stories with the complete ignorance and over payment of politicians and we have a country that doesn’t even vote.(unless its to stop the HST) In Toronto, it was my story times ten thousand. First we need politians with their salaries based on the canadian national average. This will eliminate the money grubers, then we need to get rid of the power mongers, police and politians alike.(not all of them just the power mongers). Then we will have for the first time in Canada – A DEMOCRACY. Till then we are all sheep and cattle who better do what we are told or the government will send the police to arrest us or taser us 13sec after they arrive like at the Vancouver airport. At least China tells you they are a dictaorship, Canada is a dictatorship cloaked as a democracy.

    The next blog is from someone looking to be involved but doesn’t see the point.:

    The liberals do what they want how they want to do it, then say its what we want.The NDP are going to raise the min. wage which means in a time when its the hardest for small businesses they are going to have to lay-off 10%-20% of their employees.Both are a case of spoon fed people who have never lived the same type of lives as the rest of us. They do not understand our low to middle income lives. The green party is the opposite, no money, no experience. The conservatives are a little of each depending on which of us they are trying to pander to, at a self premium everytime.

    It took me less than a minute to find these and there are literally thousands more. I want people in politics who want to make change not money. I won’t be voting until someone says that he/she will base their salary on the the canadian national average or provincial average for provincial elections. This way we will get the right people in charge and if they want more money they can enable us to make more money.

    P.S. I have sent a detailed plan to give us all a vote on social issues to every party and none have responded which is a shame because they all claim to want to make canada the best country in the world but none are willing to give us back any power to do it. We could demand it but that would require a level of co-operation like never before and the politicians know it. They aren’t scared, they know as long as they give us a choice between them the sheep and cattle are going to fall in line. But every election less and less people choose to go to the slaughter house (vote). Someday there will be someone who is willing to say “I’m only going to make as much as the people I represent, I dare my running mates to do the same”. That will be the person that can give us the first democracy in Canada.

    • Jesse permalink
      May 10, 2015 12:43 pm

      It makes no difference to me if the boot on my throat has the leg of a king, a PM, a party or the electronic voting support of the majority of my countrymen. Does it make a difference to you?

  10. Anonymous permalink
    June 14, 2011 5:13 pm

    i think that my problem for voteing is that our goverment sucks ass we need new blood some one that nows about loss some one that has lived a hard life some one that had nothing but the clothes on there back and is willing to fight for those types of people or how about the health care for ower parents or grandparents and i am very much involved with the care of ower parents do to my mother dieing of cancer and my wife taking seizures and all the system can say is oh well life go’s on i have been forced to watch them die slowly or the disabled the need to rely on the support system because they cant work and only get $1,020 to live on a month that was suppose to get a 12% increase per year and only got 1% per year how do the justify their mistake by telling us oh well because of the failure our goverment has repeatedly failed to fix thats why i dont vote if there was one person that would fight to fix this an even succeed in 25%of these things i would start to vote and i now lots of others who would start with me

  11. Anonymous permalink
    October 6, 2011 9:07 pm

    I saw you comment on twitter pointing to this article. I do agree with most of it and I am glad you talk about people who give Reason #1. I saw a lot of comments like that on the feed and was getting grumpy. I think that a lot of the problems with politics are the people’s own doing to be honest. Most people apparently do not vote, they exert no pressure on our politicians, rather than hold our politicians feet to the fire we sit back and do nothing or complain about them. Yes we have bad leadership but part of that is also our own fault.

    I also look forward to electoral reform. Though a number of referendums have sadly made it clear that even the offer of reform will not get people out to vote, even when there is the real prospect of change. Honestly, I am not convinced many more people will vote if we start to make structural changes to our electoral system that make people’s votes count. I have become a bit of a misanthrope.

  12. October 6, 2011 9:08 pm

    I saw you comment on twitter pointing to this article. I do agree with most of it and I am glad you talk about people who give Reason #1. I saw a lot of comments like that on the feed and was getting grumpy. I think that a lot of the problems with politics are the people’s own doing to be honest. Most people apparently do not vote, they exert no pressure on our politicians, rather than hold our politicians feet to the fire we sit back and do nothing or complain about them. Yes we have bad leadership but part of that is also our own fault.

    I also look forward to electoral reform. Though a number of referendums have sadly made it clear that even the offer of reform will not get people out to vote, even when there is the real prospect of change. Honestly, I am not convinced many more people will vote if we start to make structural changes to our electoral system that make people’s votes count. I have become a bit of a misanthrope.

  13. October 6, 2011 9:17 pm

    Sorry about the double posting.
    I should say I also really liked the Rick Mercer video as I had not seen it before and it touched on an issue that always pissed me off when I was younger. I always wondered what would happen if other young voters, who seemed to agree with me on many issues, actually went out and voted. My goodness, imagine if that block of people actually did something. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

  14. February 6, 2013 9:28 am

    Old blog, I know, but the topic is as relevant today as it was when originally written. A few new thoughts….

    People are generally frustrated with the political system – now more than ever. Politicians say whatever they want (read: what they think you want to hear in order to garner your vote), whether they live up to these campaign promises is optional. Yes, yes, I can hear you now – ‘they’ll pay at the ballots next time’. No they won’t. Society as a whole has an incredibly short (and seemingly shrinking) attention span. We forget about the sins A(and associated rage) within months. The political strategists know this – that’s why all the nastiness happens within the first few years of their mandate. Plenty of time for the sheep to forget. You can blame society for this if you like, but it doesn’t change the facts.

    Launching new initiatives immediately after an election that was never discussed during a campaign (an outright lie of omission IMO). Obfuscation of the (very important) details during a campaign like how much will that promise cost? How will it be funded (new debt? New taxes? Cutting of other services?) (more lies of omission) I want to know – and I want to know that you have put enough thought into your platform to have covered these considerations. But of course politicians don’t want to do this, as this does of reality would create for too many problems for them.

    And of course their is the degree of corruption and mismanagement that seems to be ongoing. How is it that the worst that seemingly can happen to a political leader that is effectively fraudulent is that he/she may be asked to step down? How about charged, convicted, incarcerated and sued as an alternative.

    In a nutshell what I am advocating is accountability within the halls of leadership. They should be accountable to the taxpayers for the promises they make, and how they lead.

    I find it interesting that some look to existing political parties to bring about significant democratic reform. It won’t happen (not that way). From my perspective I don’t believe that the government works for the people any more than the Sheppard works for the sheep. Like the sheep, we are there to be fleeced. The lack of accountability works just fine for those in power, and their benefactors, so don’t count on any significant help from them – they *like* the status quo.

    No, if there is to be true change it needs to be a grass roots movement that might even involve the formation of a new political party. Difficult problems often require direct intervention.

  15. michael permalink
    May 5, 2013 7:23 pm

    I don’t vote because then I can bitch at what the current government is doing. I chose the dumbass in power, so why would I bitch about the choices he, the one I elected, make? I chose the fucker so I supported him and his discisions.

    • May 5, 2013 10:17 pm

      Interesting, that seems to be the opposite approach many people I’ve spoken to talk about. So what if the person you would have voted for doesn’t win? If you didn’t even vote for the alternative people argue that you have no right to complain about the outcome. I think we all have the right to complain whether we voted or not and whether the person we voted for was elected or not. Democracy is essentially a system for everyone to officially complain, all the time and argue about what to do next. Our right to complain is even more fundamental that our right or duty to vote. That being said I totally aggree that just because you voted for someone doesn’t mean you really support what they end up doing.

      Thanks for your comment.


      On Sun, May 5, 2013 at 7:23 PM, Pop The Stack


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