… but we’re all over the map
IT’S ELECTION TIME in Ontario, and with that the Fulcrum is prompted to provide some epic candidate coverage, a discussion of the issues closest to the hearts of students, and, of course, an editorial encouraging you to break the trend of voter apathy among Canadians aged 18–24 and vote—or so you’d expect. But when the nine of us sat down to talk politics, we quickly realized an editorial we could all sign off on was out of the question. We have an ed board that ranges from active non-voters to faithful ballot-casters, from those who could recite the d’Hondt method of seat allocation in their sleep to those who couldn’t spell “democratization” if their life depended on it. So instead of trying to come up with a cohesive message for our readers, our editorial board sounds off on apathetic youth, our broken electoral system, and the importance—or lack thereof—of casting a ballot this October.
It takes more than an ‘X’ to mark political participation
Voter turnout is on the decline—and I am proud to contribute to that statistic.
It’s not that I don’t care for politics. I am a CPAC-watching, Cairns-idolizing, elections-crazed political science graduate. But as a student of Canadian politics, I have a serious problem with our first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system.
FPTP awards seats to candidates who receive a plurality of votes in their riding. This system has a penchant for rewarding parties with regionally concentrated support (think Bloc Québécois at the federal level), while systematically under-representing small parties with widespread support (think Greens), women, and minorities. Although an electoral system is, by definition, a mechanism by which votes are translated into seats, FPTP often results in a sizable discrepancy between the popular vote a party receives and number of seats in the legislature it earns.
Given electoral reform wasn’t mentioned in the platforms of the major parties in this election, it’s safe to assume we are stuck with our current system for a while. So are we indignant non-voters condemned to a politically apathetic existence for decades? Fuck no. We don’t need a more proportionate Parliament to take action on the issues dear to our hearts, because political participation is more than casting a ballot every four years.
Do you believe our government should take action on the environment? Think local and start by minimizing your own carbon footprint. Do you want to see your tuition fees frozen? Get involved with the Canadian Federation of Students’ Education is a Right campaign. Believe in a cause but can’t see yourself hitting the streets in protest? Work at one of the many research-based organizations in this country that contribute to the body of literature shaping Canadian public policy.
The belief that political engagement stops at the ballot box is a half-assed, laissez-faire approach to our civic duties. After all, democracy is more than an “X” on a piece of paper.
The Berkley problem
I have never understood voting—and as I become more informed, my frustration is only increasing.
In the past, I simply felt like I didn’t have a good enough grasp of each party’s platforms and political stances to make an informed decision, so I never voted. But after many a lecture on “neglecting my civic duty,” I decided to take ownership of my lack of knowledge and familiarize myself with the different parties. Finally, I had something to say.
That’s when I met my next hurdle: How do I cast my vote so my voice is actually heard? Should I vote for the candidate I want to win in my riding or for the person I would like to lead my province or country? What I have come to discover is—with our current electoral system—my vote makes no difference.
Since every riding has a favourite, and most ridings have consistently elected the same party for years—sometimes decades—unless you are voting for your riding’s favourite, your vote doesn’t count for much on the regional level. On the federal level? Well, again, unless you voted with the masses, first-past-the-post swallows your voice and doesn’t even have the courtesy of spitting up the bones.
As a citizen in a democratic country, I feel I should have more say about whom we elect as leaders. My vote should not only go toward my riding, but also toward the head of my province or country.
I feel like the tree in the woods that no one even knew existed—and this realization has made me question the very nature of our political existence.
It’s about doing what you can
I have always been told I have no right to complain about the issues that affect me if I do nothing to change them. In other words—or at least as my dad would prefer me to understand it—I have no right to whine about problems with our country, province, or city if I refuse to vote. While fear of my father’s wrath is not enough to push me to the polls, the truth at the heart of his mantra is.
As a student, and a relatively poor and busy one at that, I do not have many resources to spare to affect change in the world around me. I do not have a dollar a day to spare for impoverished children in Canada or abroad, and I do not have the time to organize marches or petition the government to work harder toward what change I want. What I do have, however, is a vote. One measly little vote, sure, but a small chance to stand up for what matters to me and stand against what I feel is wrong.
For me, the chance to vote is the chance to do something, anything, to push my country in the direction I think it should be headed. Even if my ballot becomes just one of the many votes cast in favour of the loser, I think it says something that—even among the minority—there is some solidarity.
—Jaclyn Lytle, Executive Editor
When I cast my ballot for the first time, I walked into a room of elderly volunteers running the voting station. As I registered, one of them took my ID and checked my age.
I was 19 at the time, and I’ll never forget the amazed look from the worker looking at my health card. She said something along the lines of, “Good on you,” which made me feel pretty great about exercising my civic duty.
It seems to me that there’s a wide belief among adults that youth are apathetic toward politics and voting. One of the biggest reasons I vote is to prove them wrong. Not only do I get to mentally high-five myself when I win a political debate against a seasoned pro, but I also show grown-ups that my issues matter as much as theirs do.
In an interview I had with Rick Mercer last week, he said student problems won’t be up for discussion if we don’t vote—and he makes a good point. Most politicians only care about the segments of the population that bother to cast a ballot, and so they make promises that will get them those votes. The solution? Vote!
Whether you care about tuition fees, the environment, or job security, you need to let politicians know. Tell them you care about something more than keg stands, and the best way to do that is to go to debates, ask politicians tough questions, challenge their thinking, and yes—to vote.
Don’t be an aggressive passive
Why do I vote? The question would seem like such an easy one to answer, but when asked it at an editorial meeting, I actually couldn’t think of a concrete, cohesive argument for why I vote. After spending some time pondering this question, I came up with only a couple sound arguments on why I vote, and more importantly, why you should too.
Our ability to vote is a fundamental right protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it’s our civic duty as citizens of Canada to exercise this right. Because we live in a democracy, we have a chance to impact our laws, send politicians a message, and create change. People of other countries are dying for democracy, and in Canada we have the privilege to vote.
If a significant percentage of Canadians do not vote, the legitimacy of our government is questioned. Our government is elected, and the fewer people who vote, the less legitimate the government becomes.
I understand the arguments not to vote. Our country may need radical reform of its voting system. I, like many of you, believe we should be able to vote for our prime minister and premier directly. Although for the time being our system does not allow this, instead of actively sitting passively in the back seat, why not vote while trying to change the system? For many years, youth have cast a ballot less often than any other segment of the population. If politicians know young people are less likely to vote than their elder counterparts, why would they work on issues that matter to us?
Arts & Culture Editor
My vote, my reason
I’ll be the first to admit: I know very little about politics. A shocking statement, perhaps, from a graduate of arguably the most politically charged university in Canada, but it’s true. It’s not that I don’t care about our government or our country—I am fiercely patriotic. I do what I can to inform myself, but I am not politically minded and—contrary to popular belief—there’s nothing wrong with that.
I do, however, make it a point to vote. Not because I believe the power of one vote can change the country, nor do I think it’s my civic duty, but I vote because I am a woman. Given that I, a mere 90 years ago, would not have been considered a “person” in this country, I feel it is my responsibility and my honour to exercise the right given to me from the tireless efforts of Canadian suffragettes.
I won’t waste my time condemning others who choose not to vote. Whether or not another person fills out a ballot is immaterial to me. As Canadians, we are afforded the freedom to practice religion, marry whomever we please, and vote. I know why I will wait in line this October.
You’ve got to work to fix it
As a political science student, I like to have faith in the system. I firmly believe it is my civic duty to take 10 minutes out of my life to cast a vote on something that will basically decide how my city, province, or country is run. I believe if you don’t vote you really can’t complain, and if you really want to make a statement you should choose to spoil your ballot over doing nothing at all. There are people halfway around the world who literally die for the opportunity to pick their government; yet, for some reason, our voter turnout has gotten lower every year.
I know there are a lot of people who say our political system is, well, fucked up. And sadly, even I agree our first-past-the-post-elected government is not representative of the electorate’s choices. I think we should be able to vote for our prime minister and premier separately from our members of parliament and members of provincial parliament. I may like the conservative candidate’s platform for Rideau–Vanier, but I don’t want to vote for Stephen Harper by consequence; therefore, my vote does not accurately portray my political vision.
However, I think the only way to fix this system is to show we care about it—to vote for representatives who think similarly and prove to the government we aren’t going to sit idly by while the governance of our country stands on the line. I want to ensure that the people who run our country know I’m here—and know I’m pissed. If we don’t do something to change the system and take politics into our own hands, then I’m afraid it will be there for years to come. It’s up to you.
So you’re walking down the street, just minding your own business, when out of nowhere an election campaign sign jumps out at you from some impertinent constituent’s lawn. There are three main responses to this. The first being a balanced, “Ah another election. Time for me to exercise my civic duty.” The second is a sallow grumble of exasperation. And the third is a chain of curse words, the end of which is punctuated by a statement along the lines of “fucking voting!”
These are all valid points of view to varying degrees, but each have their problems.
The first view leaves much to fate. The current voting system in Canada, first-past-the-post, is fraught with problems. Almost all first-past-the-post systems are eventually reduced to two-party systems, and the addition of a third party that changes the way votes are tabulated. This often causes a “spoiler effect” when the third party has similar views to one of the main parties, thus the votes the third party earns over one of the major parties make it easier for their common opponent to win the election.
The third viewpoint is simply immature, selfish, and unhelpful. Although our electoral system is not perfect or particularly representative of the populace, that doesn’t mean one has no choice but to abstain. Inform yourself on what issues your local candidates are backing and support the ones who share your beliefs, especially those who push for electoral reform—and push your friends to do the same.
For all you moaners and groaners who simply can’t stand the stress of voting, my advice to you is stop being so grouchy. Do what I do: Meet up with your friends, vote, and have post-vote parties. If that’s not your scene, go alone—but go out, go vote!
I vote, but maybe I shouldn’t…
I vote for the people my parents vote for, mostly because, politically, my views are aligned with my parents and because my dad has been drilling, “It’s your civic duty” into my head since I was in Grade 10. I remember once wanting to write an essay about how people shouldn’t vote, and by the end of a discussion with my dad, I was arguing the opposite of what I started with.
Granted, 16-year-old me was much more impressionable and easy to convince, but thinking back to what I was going to originally argue, it went something like this: If you’re informed and you care about the issues, then you should vote. If not, why bother?
We should all be informed about the way our country is being run. And I can’t help but feel that in being informed, most people will start caring. But honestly, between school, two jobs, and an internship, I can’t keep up with every political issue. I almost always feel uninformed, no matter how many newspapers I read.
Go to party websites and all you’ll see, in my opinion, is a huge show of we’re-the-best-and-they’re-the-worst. I hesitate to ask my informed colleagues what’s up because every story I’m told is riddled with their bias. So what options am I left with?
I still think that it’s important to vote—that being somewhat uninformed while casting a ballot is still infinitely less dangerous than letting others speak for you. If you can figure out what it is you stand for and wade through all the smoke and mirrors to find a party that stands for you, why wouldn’t you vote?