Why you can't take Canada's May 2 election for granted

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Following a ruling by the speaker of the House of Commons that found the Steven Harper government in contempt of parliament, the opposition parties used a non-confidence motion to bring down the minority conservative government.  As a result, Steven Harper, Prime Minister asked the Governor General to call an election on May 2.

An element of boredom characterized the early days of the campaign with the Prime Minister labelling the election as unnecessary while minimizing the fact this his government was the first ever in the commonwealth that had been found in contempt of Parliament.  However, in recent days, the Canadian people have paid attention and a three-way race among the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democrats is evolving — if you believe the polls.

Disgust with the Campaign

Leading up to the election and for most of the 6 weeks of the campaign, the Canadian networks carried attack ads aimed primarily at discrediting the leader of the opposition.  The vitriol in these ads was surprising as Canadians typically do not like — nor do they respond to negativity.  While Canada protects and allows free speech, the frequency and pitch of the attack ads deeply offended thinking Canadians.

Further, each party used most of the time in this campaign to deliver a set of repetitious key messages that lacked insight or substance.  By the shallowness of these messages all parties seemed to portray Canadian voters as having, at best, a grade school level understanding of politics and a superficial interest the critical decisions faced by this country.  Instead all party strategists developed advertisements based on personal destructiveness and innuendo — with the disingenuous assumption that Canadians are stupid.

In the past few days, as polls indicate that the mainstream  parties are losing rather gaining momentum, trash talking by each leader has accelerated, thus confirming the shallowness and showing an ugly desperation.  Instead of talking about the issues that bother most Canadians, personality attacks and platitudes about the country fill the airwaves and social media.

Real Concerns Ignored or Minimized

As a concerned citizen I wish that the election campaign had provided an opportunity to open a country-wide dialogue on issues that need to be addressed.  Instead, all parties ignored, dismissed, or simplified topics requiring complex analysis and informed discussion.  Here is  a list of policy issues needing serious discussion and debate

  • ensuring that Canada does its part in protecting the environment of this planet and dealing with pollution in our own country
  • addressing poverty — especially child poverty — since 1 in 5 children live in poverty
  • setting high standards for education — at public school, in high school and in post secondary institutions
  • providing affordable housing — especially for young families in urban area
  • resolving land claims by First Nations
  • addressing the needs of cities and dealing with the rural/urban divide
  • re-structuring health delivery to ensure affordability and care for all Canadians
  • understanding the labour force and pension ramifications of an aging population
These are just some of the ‘big’ policy issues. In addition there are many irksome issues that offer daily stress for many — including
  • escalation of gas pump prices in a country that produces a vast amount of oil
  • lack of high-speed internet in many rural areas when people are trying to participate in a future that involves digital media
  • crazy prices for cell phones, wireless connections and cable when compared to prices in other countries
  • exceptionally long commuting times in cities due to outmoded, expensive public transit and lack of sufficient highways
I’m sure that every reader has a personal list of irksome issues.
The Right to Vote

Sadly not one party has enticed Canadians with real discussion about these substantive or  irksome issues.  Does this mean that no party as a visionary picture for the future of the country?  Is nobody ready to tackle complexity and begin a process of significant change?  What is the point of going to vote when the election has disgusted, or worse, angered most Canadians by the level of drivel that passes for legitimacy? Why vote when is it so difficult to respect or believe any of the politicians?

The answer is simple — you vote because you can.  It is your obligation as a citizen.

Voting is part of living in a free democratic country. It’s shocking to hear Canadians say they may not vote; that they don’t understand the process of the election; or that they don’t believe that their vote will make a difference.

Let’s not forget the revolutions, uprisings and demonstrations throughout the Middle East during the past three months that have been about eliminating dictatorships in favor of democratic regimes.  People have died — and continue to die — in the quest for the freedom to select a government and to live by a constitution founded on democratic principles.

To me, voting is a sacred civic responsibility.  I realize that I belong to the group of ‘older’ educated people who form the majority of voters in this country.

There are, however, indications that other groups who are sufficiently angered by the rhetoric and the lack of substance in this campaign.  The vote mobs formed  many colleges and universities across the country to get students to vote in the advance polls during the Easter weekend encourages me.   I am also encouraged when I hear that there was a 34 percent increase of voters in the 2011 advance poll as compared to the last election.  Women’s real concerns dismissed with platitudes about families or promises of child care.  Immigrants want recognition of their individual skills and desires to belong to a Canada that truly wants them and values who they are rather than seeing them as people who like to wear their costumes, eat spicy foods and dance at multicultural festivals.  The social media is energizing many who have stayed away from polls in previous elections.  I say hurray!

Canadians are ready to respond to a new vision for this century.  This vision will only emerge from vigorous debate on critical issues that affect the daily lives of Canadians.  And it will begin with small steps — like exercising that sacred democratic right.

On Monday May 2 — make your way to your polling station and vote.  Vote, even if you have to hold your nose as you mark your ballot.   Encourage your neighbours, friends and family to do the same.  Don’t take that democratic right and priviledge for granted.

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