Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 19, 2004
Thumbs down to you non-voters
Scream, 'I'm mad as heck and I'm not going to take it anymore' -- then cast your ballot
By SUZANNE ELSTON
It's time once again for my annual Green Thumbs Down Awards for ecological ignorance and political arrogance. In light of their extraordinarily dismal behaviour, I've decided to forego the usual handing out of multiple awards, and simply focus on one grand prizewinner.
So, without further adieu, this year's single, and much deserved Democracy is not a Spectator Sport award goes to the apathetic Canadian voters who routinely turn their backs on their right to vote. The award is named after activist/writer Anne Hansen's landmark essay of the same title, written in January 1987. Seventeen years later, we still haven't got the message.
Hansen wrote, "The new year is a particularly appropriate time to make keen observations about our past month's preoccupation with tradition, conformity and material consumption. In January, after much wallowing in indulgence, how many Canadians will fully appreciate the significance of the democracy in which we are so fortunate to live?"
She's right. While citizens in other countries around the world are literally dying for the right to vote in fair and democratic elections, Canadians shirk their constitutional responsibility at the local, provincial and federal level and then use the same constitutional rights to complain about the governments that they failed to have any hand in electing.
For example, 57 per cent of Ontario voters showed up at the polls in September to give Ernie Eves the boot. Pathetic as that was, it beat the 54 per cent of Manitobans who bothered to vote in that province's June election. This lacklustre performance gives both provinces a D in citizenship.
Turnout plummetingIn other recent elections, Quebec scored a B- (70 per cent) while Nova Scotia and New Brunswick both managed a C performance (68 and 65 per cent respectively). And while these are somewhat better scores than Ontario and Manitoba, it's important to note that in all three cases, voter turnout is on the decline.
The same holds true for our recent federal elections. For example, in 1993, a dismal 55.1 per cent of Newfoundland voters turned out for the federal election, down a whopping 12 percentage points from the previous 1988 election. Overall in the last federal election, the country scored a C-, with a mere 60 per cent casting their vote. And since this only represents registered voters, the actual turnout of those who could vote is likely closer to 50 per cent.
Scores in municipal elections are even more pathetic. According to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), in the 2000 election only 55 percent of reporting municipalities had turnouts that exceeded 40 per cent. In the 2003 municipal election, Toronto's hotly contested mayoralty race only managed to draw 39 per cent of voters to the polls: not even a high enough mark to qualify the citizen's of Canada's largest city for summer school.
All of this begs the question, "Why bother having elections?" According to Hansen, "Democracy doesn't work democratically simply because the majority prefers to sit idly by and observe. Democracy is not a spectator sport! The game of democracy cannot work when most of the team, namely the public, is asleep on the sidelines."
What I find particularly ironic is that while they are sleeping, this same public is financing our brave Canadian troops overseas who are fighting for - you guessed it - the right to hold democratic and fair elections!
And that's the point. We embarrass our country and ourselves by ignoring the very thing that our troops are fighting to defend. The right to vote isn't something that we choose to exercise, or not, depending on our busy schedules. Voting is our responsibility and our privilege and we must actively defend it by exercising it at all levels of government.
"Less fortunate citizens in other parts of the world are routinely imprisoned for exercising their right to political, cultural, humanitarian and personal expression," wrote Hansen. "Your democratic freedom is one of the most valuable things you have, so show your appreciation." H1 Class-"sub">New Year's wish Hansen's hope for the New Year and every day of the year: "I wish every couch-sitting Canadian who sneers at persistence, tactics and ideals of activists, would take one full minute to imagine the unprecedented impact on governmental policy if every citizen woke up and exercised the right and responsibility to speak and act for positive change."
Now that's something to think about. Happy New Year!
Recommended websites:Based in London, England, openDemocracy.net is dedicated to opening up a democratic space and encourage free thinking for the world. Contributing writers cross the political and global spectrum and include world-class thinkers, philosophers, politicians, business leaders and key activists.
To find out what happens when one individual stands up to be counted, visit Michael Moore's website at www.michaelmoore.com.
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