It’s that time of the month once again, when the entire population of the world excitedly and eagerly focuses pretty much none of their attention on Canada: it’s time for another Canadian federal election. Well, you might be led to believe elections are a monthly event here, judging from the drama queen complaining and PMSing across the land, but remember, the last election was actually held in October of 2008. Yes, there was also one in 2006, and another in 2004, but, come on, is it really that much of a hassle to mark an ‘X’ on a small piece of paper as frequently as once every couple of years? If you answered ‘yes’ to that question, then I suggest you stay home on voting day to avoid overstressing your delicate system with the unbearable effort of moving the end of a pencil across the surface of a piece of paper, and I further recommend that you eliminate your voting-related anxiety altogether by rescinding your right to vote.
Around 40 percent of eligible Canadian voters don’t bother to vote anyway, so it would be a bit strange if they objected to losing their voting rights. Why hang on to a right you have no interest in exercising? It’s time to clean out all the clutter of your unwanted, dusty, old, unfashionable democratic rights and civil liberties and haul them to the curb for pick-up. Seriously, if you would object to losing your right to vote, yet you choose not to vote, the question that arises is: wtf?
Some of those who choose not to vote do so because they are too busy working on smashing the state. It’s true that almost nothing frightens the establishment as much as a tiny, disorganized group of frustrated youth wearing bandanas and very occasionally committing media-friendly acts of petty vandalism in the midst of large peaceful demonstrations and thereby considerately stimulating demand for the suffering plate glass manufacturing industry as well as for crowd control and security consultants — but while all this sends the power elites into panics, the idea of young people actually voting scares them even more. Currently, the major political parties focus a lot of energy on mobilizing the senior vote, sending volunteers to nursing homes and bingo halls across the land. That’s because seniors happen to vote. The average 70 year-old is twice as likely as the average 20 year-old to bother to have a say in who forms the government, and some politicians like it that way (hint: this tends not to favour more progressive politicians).
In the last election, the turnout for voters aged 18 to 20 was 35.6 percent, while the turnout for voters aged 65 to 74 was 68.4 percent. The numbers go as low as 13.4 percent for young voters in Nunavut, and as high as 80.6 percent for voters of retirement age in Saskatchewan. The sad thing is, those numbers were a major improvement for youth: in 2000, about 25 percent of eligible 18 to 24 year-olds in Canada voted. If young people were to suddenly start voting in large numbers, not only would the make-up of Parliament (not the ’70s funk band, by the way) change dramatically, but also, political strategists would be flummoxed. Where to send the get-out-the-vote volunteers now? Where do kids these days hang out anyway? The disco? the drive-in movie theatre? the soda shop? The ensuing political chaos would make the perfect breeding ground for a revolution.
Some people fear that to cast a vote is to endorse the current system of governance. But, contrary to the contentions of many armchair political pundits/social theorists/ganja connoisseurs, it’s not like you get more power to change the political system by not participating in it. Believe it or not, you can vote and criticize the system too, contrary to the not-very-wise words of George Carlin. He said: “On election day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, ‘If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain’, but where’s the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain.” In fairness, Carlin was a comedian, not a logician, so we can forgive his errors in reasoning. If I happen to vote a politician into office and they screw things up, I have a right to complain because that politician isn’t holding up their end of the bargain. Presumably, I didn’t elect them on a mandate to screw things up. Meanwhile, if enough non-voter types who share Carlin’s political values actually voted, there would be a few more slightly-less-dishonest, slightly-less-incompetent politicians running the show. It might sound like a sad compromise, but it does make a difference. If someone offers you a choice between a Stephen Harper and a Hitler, rather than abstaining from voting because your ideal candidate isn’t on the ballot, or because you don’t want to perpetuate the political system or whatnot, clearly, you should opt for the lesser of two evils – Harper, in this case. (See how free of bias I am – I just defended Harper.)
Some people don’t bother voting because “governments don’t rule the world, corporations do”. However, it’s not true quite yet that corporations rule the world, so if that kind of world is something you would prefer to avoid, it makes sense to use all means at your disposal to prevent it, one of which happens to be the ability to influence who forms the government. But maybe voting still seems pointless because your one lonely little vote (assuming you’re not committing voter fraud) won’t change the overall numbers very much. Yep, that is probably true, and that’s why most election campaigns are not aimed exclusively at you personally, but instead, at large numbers of people across various sectors of society. Most of the time, one little individual doesn’t count for much, so, if you happen to know ahead of time exactly how many people are going to vote and how they are going to vote, then you can decide whether to make the trip to the polling station or not. But make sure your predictions of the future are perfectly accurate – sometimes just a few votes make the difference. In Nova Scotia’s 1999 general election, the electoral district of Shelburne ended up being decided by a single vote – cast by the returning officer as a tie-breaker. There’s a good chance a few people were kicking themselves afterward that they didn’t cast a vote that day.
Don’t get me wrong, though – our political system is pretty terrible. Of democracy, Winston Churchill said it is “the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” That may be true, but Churchill was kind of downplaying just how much democracy sucks. In monarchies and dictatorships, power is concentrated in the hands of a few, who may possibly be selfish idiots; in democracies, power is distributed among the many, a very large number of whom definitely are selfish idiots. In fact, Churchill also said “the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” Again, he was sugar-coating reality: it takes a lot less than five minutes of conversation with the average voter to lose your enthusiasm for democracy. It’s not just the rules of the game that are dumb, it’s the players too. Look at our electoral system — not only is it a ridiculous, dysfunctional piece of turd, metaphorically speaking, but most voters here (those who bother to vote, that is) apparently like it that way. There have been several recent attempts across Canada – in BC, Ontario, and PEI – to introduce proportional representation, and voters rejected every proposal. As a quick example of how our present electoral system ‘functions’: in the 2008 federal election, the Green Party received zero seats in return for about 940,000 votes, while the Conservatives received 27 seats in Alberta in return for about 813,000 votes. If you’re a Conservative supporter, maybe you like the sounds of that kind of math – but don’t forget, in 1993, the Progressive Conservatives got 16 percent of the popular vote, but ended up with just two seats out of 295.
Perhaps you’ve accepted these realities and you understand that casting a vote in our decrepit, embarrassing joke of an electoral system is at least a smarter choice than not casting a vote. Now it’s time to choose who to vote for. There is a wide range of important criteria voters use in evaluating candidates. Among other reasons, people will choose a particular candidate because the candidate belongs to the party their parents always voted for, he used to be a famous actor, she is a porn star, he is a total douchebag but is extremely rich, and so on. When considering who should become Prime Minister, voters may choose not to support a particular party because the leader isn’t charismatic enough or not ‘prime ministerial’ enough. Ok, what the hell is that supposed to mean anyway? What makes someone prime ministerial – alcoholism? holding séances? shagging Barbara Streisand? It doesn’t matter to me if a candidate has the oratorical skills and statesmanship of a school janitor – what I care about is how they’re going to govern. I don’t really care if they’ve got the easygoing charm, hypnotic charisma, and raw sex appeal of a Stephen Harper, as long as they don’t have the policies of a Stephen Harper. If a candidate has the most progressive policies, they’ve got my vote, whether or not they also happen to be a porn star. And if I do happen to be considering voting for a porn star, then that pretty much means I must have scratched Stephen Harper off my list by that point, as far as I’m aware.
It’s clear that the last thing we need now is a campaign aimed at bringing more eligible voters to the polls on voting day. It’s a disturbing fact that so many Canadians don’t care enough about the political process to inform themselves and vote, but it’s an even more disturbing fact that so many Canadians don’t care enough to inform themselves but think it’s ok to vote anyway. Let’s face facts: educating millions of non-voting Canadians and getting them deeply engaged in the political process is an overwhelming, basically impossible task. Let’s focus on the much more achievable goal of discouraging as many uninformed people as possible from voting.