The upcoming federal election (October 19) is probably the most important one of my voting life thus far. Although at the outset this election was framed as being “about the economy”, the choice facing Canadians is more about moral values than dollars and cents. What kind of Canada do we want? What kind of legacy do we wish to leave for our children and grandchildren? Do we want to be a leader in the serious problems facing the world (climate change, the refugee crisis), or do we wish to be on the wrong side of history, dragging our feet until the total of human death and suffering has reached a point we can no longer ignore? Do we embrace our multicultural society or not? Do we reconcile the wrongs that have been, and continue to be, perpetuated against Canada’s First Nations or do we shrug and say “it’s not high on our list of priorities right now”? Do we protect our human rights and extend them to all Canadians, or do we rescind them from those we deem undesirable for reasons of their religion, ethnic background, or political activism? Do we explore ways to strengthen our democracy or do we continue to weaken it?
[It’s probably obvious where my political preferences lie based on the fact that this is my blog, but if you want to ignore climate change, let refugees continue to die on the open seas, let the systemic causes of murdered and missing Indigenous women go uninvestigated, spy on your neighbours (while forfeiting your own freedoms), live in constant and unsubstantiated fear of people who look different from you or worship a different god, or, y’know, if you enjoy letting the government destroy decades worth of research your tax dollars paid for and you LIKE the fact that they have been found guilty of cheating in all four of the past federal elections, by all means, please vote for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives; if not, you’ll probably want to vote for someone else.]
It’s no secret that our democracy is a flawed one–no democracy is perfect, and a multi-party, first-past-the-post system like ours often results in unique (to the rest of the world) but not uncommon (to us) situations whereby a political party that does NOT have the majority of the popular vote in Canada ends up with the majority of the seats in Parliament and ends up forming the government. That’s what happened last time, and it could well happen again.
At this time, our best and only weapon against the shortcomings of our democracy is to participate in the system as it currently is and VOTE. Vote for the party that best represents the Canada you want to see (or vote strategically if you believe there is a strong case for that in your riding), and vote for a party committed to electoral reform, that is, to finding alternative electoral systems that can better represent the will of Canadians (both the NDP and Liberal parties of Canada have pledged to implement electoral reform if they form the new government).
Unfortunately, recent cuts to Election Canada’s budget, coupled with new voter identification restrictions imposed by the ironically-named “Fair” Elections Act, have resulted in incorrect voter cards being sent the hundreds of Canadians, long line-ups at advanced polls, widespread confusion on the part of Elections Canada employees as to what constitutes the proper ID, and even “pre-marked” ballots being handed to voters (the result of a “printing error”, according to Elections Canada). While it is more important than ever to vote (and you should), I can empathize with voter frustration when faced with confusion, misinformation, and long waits at the ballot box.
But still, vote. Please vote [even if you want to vote Conservative; I mean, I’d really rather Conservative voters just stay home and do some crochet or whatever but democracy means we all get our vote so I could never sanction saying “don’t vote” to anyone]. And while you’re making your plan to vote, keep in mind some key points:
- Election day is October 19, 2015. It is now too late to vote in advanced polls to to make arrangements to vote by mail. You must vote at YOUR polling station (voters in federal elections are not permitted to vote at any other polling station). To find your polling station or to confirm the hours your polling station is open, please visit the Elections Canada website at elections.ca. (It takes a little clicking around to find everything you need but it’s not hard.)
- If you are scheduled to work on election day, your employer must ensure you have three consecutive hours to cast your vote while polls are open, even if this means giving you some time off. For example, here in Vancouver my polling station is open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. A voter who works a 9 – 5 job, for example, must be given three hours at the beginning or end of their workday in which to vote. This means either the voter can start work late, at 10:00 a.m., or finish work early, at 4:00 p.m., in order to have three consecutive hours to vote before the polls close. In this case, the choice of which time to give you (morning or evening) is up to your employer, however, they CANNOT refuse to give you three consecutive voting hours; that would be illegal.
- In order to vote, you MUST be able to provide appropriate ID as per the new rules (voter cards are not ID). While the new identification rules are rather strict, there are many acceptable forms of identification, and a comprehensive list of acceptable voter ID can be found on the Elections Canada site. If you have any further questions about ID, you can probably find an answer on the ID FAQ page.
- Once you’re in your polling booth, pencil in hand, check your ballot carefully to make sure there are no marks on it–“dirty ballots” have been reported in some ridings, and a dirty ballot could invalidate your vote.
A major concern so far is that many Elections Officers at advanced polling stations have been (hopefully unintentionally) misinforming voters as to what constitutes proper ID and possibly turning away voters who may, in fact, have had correct identification. Laura Track of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association volunteered as an observer at one of the advanced polls over the weekend, and has compiled a very good list of concerns and reminders titled “Election Shenanigans“. Here’s a gloss of some of her very important points:
- You do NOT need photo ID to vote. If you do have a piece of government-issued photo ID that has your current address on it, that’s great, but if you don’t, two pieces of ID from the aforementioned Elections Canada list as acceptable. Do NOT let anyone turn you away from the polls because you do not have photo ID–whoever you are speaking to is incorrect and you should demand to speak to another Elections Officer or to their supervisor. Even if you don’t have any ID with your current address on it, there are ways around this so get informed!
- Despite its confusing name, your Voter Identification Card (the one you may have received in the mail) is NOT a required, or accepted, piece of ID. Not only does it not count as an acceptable piece of identification for the purposes of voting, you are not required to have this card or to bring it with you. Your VIC can speed up the voting process, but you cannot be turned away for not having it. Again, if an Elections Officer attempts to turn you away for not bringing your VIC, they are incorrect and you should demand to speak to someone else.
- If you are not already registered to vote, or you’re not sure, checking or registering is a fairly simple process on Elections Canada’s Online Voter Registration Service. That said, you do NOT need to be pre-registered in order to vote in this election. If you have appropriate ID but are not registered in your riding, do NOT let anyone turn you away–Elections Officers can and must allow you to register to vote at your polling station.
Get informed, be prepared, and VOTE. Broken as our system is, hopeless as it may seem, your voice does count and you CAN make a difference in your country and the world.
P.S. If you do not get the result you were hoping for, and you might not, be brave. Voting is just one of the tools at your disposal in a vibrant democracy–we can change the system for the better, from the inside and out.