Election 2015: Get Out and Vote (and don’t let anyone stop you)


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.]

vote_canIt’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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


A Call to Political Participation for the ME-llenial Generation

In the November 22 issue of Maclean’s this fall, columnist Andrew Potter had this to say about the generation I belong to:

The members of the “millenial” generation have been accused of being a self-centred and politically apathetic cohort of cool-hunting technology addicts whose central claim to notoriety is that they have the attention span of a puppy dog on Red Bull. In last week’s mid-term elections, they did their level best to prove their critics right.

The context of this diatribe is an article entitled, “Where Was the Youth Vote?”, examining the effect poor youth voter turnout had on the recent mid-term elections in the US. Though I think my generation has a little more to offer than a puppy on Red Bull (I for one don’t pee on the rug), I can’t say I blame Andrew Potter for blaming us.

According to Potter’s article, Obama was voted into office in 2008 on a wave of support from new voters. A vital component of this wave was the youth vote: over 50% of eligible voters between 18 and 29 showed up at the ballot box (the second largest young voter participation rate in US history).  Fast-forward to the 2010 mid-term elections, and only about 20% of young voters bothered. Apparently two years can do a lot: “Yes We Can” has turned into “Do We Have To?”.

Yes. We do. I know voting for a more-or-less not famous Democrat or Republican during the mid-terms isn’t quite as exciting as being given a chance to vote for the first black US President ever, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Unfortunately, being a Canadian, I am not able to vote in US elections.

A little closer to home the picture doesn’t seem quite so bleak. The Stats Canada website didn’t have a neat little figure like “such and such percentage of eligible voters between 18 and 29 voted” (at least not that I could find), but I was able to glean that 59% of Canadians in their 20s have voted in at least one election. This is pretty much on par with the 58.8% of eligible Canadians who voted in the 2008 federal election. This doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels. There are still 40% of Canadians in their 20s not doing the bare minimum when it comes to participating in democracy in Canada, and I see no particular virtue in being only as bad as everyone else.

All is not lost, however. The Stats Canada webpage helpfully goes on to cite a report called “Willing to Participate: Political Engagement of Young Adults” that found that while voter participation among young people was low, young adults are just as likely as any other age group to participate in non-voting political activity. This non-voting activity includes signing a petition, boycotting a product, or choosing to buy a specific product for ethical reasons. Social networking has made these non-voting activities all the easier (no more walking door to door collecting signatures: 200 000 Canadians can express their disapproval of Harper proroguing Parliament on Facebook!).

I understand that it’s easy to become disenfranchised with the government and have a preference for non-voting activity over voting in elections. As one of my friends (a Poli Sci grad) recently pointed out, government’s hands are often tied when it comes to the issues that are important to us. For diplomatic reasons (or because they want to get re-elected), governments are sometimes unwilling or unable to go to certain places or to tackle certain hot button issues and leave that gap to be filled by NGOs, non-profits, and advocacy groups. Being the young people we are, it’s reasonable to expect that we’d rather put our energy and faith into supporting non-voting activities that actually seem to have an impact than cast a ballot and try to choose one bunch of stuffy old jerks over another bunch of stuffy old jerks. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote.

The only way to make politicians care about the concerns of young voters is to make them think they actually have something to lose if they don’t. A lack of voter participation in elections allows the governing party to pander to the demographic that voted for them– and no one else. An example of this would be the tempest in a teapot the Conservative government created this summer over “privacy concerns” and the mandatory long-form census. What do they care that minority and low-income groups might be poorly represented by a voluntary census? Statistically, these groups are less likely to vote, and so the government has nothing to gain in the polls by troubling themselves over the concerns of those groups, and everything to gain by catering to the caprices of the far right groups who “don’t think it’s the government’s business to know how many bedrooms they have”, because these are the groups that can be counted on to show their support on election day.


The government doesn’t really seem to have a lot do with my daily life. I suppose as a BC theatre artist, the provincial government has a lot to do with the fact that I had to take a job in a different sector to support myself, but really, we all just seem to hum along no matter who’s in power and maybe we assume we can just hum along forever and it will never matter who we have in government. Well, someday it will matter. If you ever have children, it will matter what the education system is like. When your parents (and someday you) retire, it will matter what pensions are like. And unfortunately, someday, without warning, it will matter very much what the health care system is like.

I am incredibly impatient. I hear a lot about my generation having a short attention span and being addicted to instant gratification and maybe that’s true. I hate the excruciatingly slow pace of getting something, ANYTHING, done in government. The systems I mentioned above are in need of massive change if we want to preserve the quality of life we enjoy now. But change comes in baby steps. So why not take the baby steps now, become part of a strong voting base NOW, so that by the time you really need change to occur you’ll have provided the foundation to bring it about?

Marketers have realized that the millenial generation is the most important consumer demographic, because we can be counted on to buy things. Wouldn’t it be great if governments treated us as the most important citizen demographic because we could be counted on to vote?

Voting is practically one of the easiest things I’ve ever done in my life. Not registered to vote? Register with Elections Canada online at www.elections.ca and click on “Voters” in the upper left of the home page. Are you one of those lucky readers who can vote in the US? Visit www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Voting/Register.shtml and get your ass registered.

Technically, Canada isn’t scheduled for another election until 2012, so in the meantime, effect change in that non-voting political way we’re so good at. The internet is full of information about how to get involved with just about any cause under the sun. Seeing as how we’re all “cool-hunting technology addicts”, I’m sure we’ll have no trouble finding it.