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October 30, 2011

Ballot is the best way to bring change

Chantal Hebert

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Almost half of all eligible voters failed to cast a ballot in last May's federal election. More than half did not turn out for this month's Ontario vote.

Among those who did vote, a plurality opted for more of the same.

A higher-than-average turnout of Conservative supporters was a factor in both outcomes.

If the Conservatives had not been so effective at getting their vote out, Stephen Harper would have fallen short of his coveted majority and Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals would not have been reduced to a minority.

The typical profile of the voters who repeatedly go missing in action at election time corresponds to the demographics of the Occupy movement in Canada. Younger Canadians dominate both groups.

If voters aged 18 to 35 cast a ballot in the same proportion as their elders, the outcome of elections could be different. According to polls, the younger segment of the electorate is strikingly more progressive.

On that basis, both the NDP and the Liberals would have more to gain from making the vote compulsory than the ruling Conservatives. If more young voters found their way to the polling booth, they would stand to change the stripe of the governments that craft the economic policies of the country. They would also force all political protagonists to recast their narratives.

These days, an active electorate dominated by aging voters, accounts for the preoccupation with law and order at the expense of early childhood education. And that is just one example.

Parties inevitably cater more to those who vote.

A lack of real choices is one reason often given by non-voters for failing to cast a ballot.

The argument that Canada’s entire political class is disconnected from the people resonates within the Occupy movement.

But if that’s the case, it is hard to think of a time when Canada’s mainstream parties have been more ripe for the taking by a populist movement.

In fact, the party that currently governs in Ottawa is a product of such a populist uprising, albeit on the right side of the spectrum.

In the late ’80s, the ruling Progressive Conservative party was very much perceived as a top-down, elite-driven organization with intimate ties to Central Canada’s corporate venues.

The breakaway Reform party was in no small part born out of the frustrations those features inspired. To this day, the anti-establishment bias of the Harper Conservatives reflects those maverick roots.

In politics, he who pays the piper often does call the tune and, until recently, corporate Canada and big labour very much paid the pipers.

But over the past decade, Canada has banned corporations and unions from donating to parties, a move that has weakened the influence of some pretty powerful lobbies in favour of individuals.

It is easier to change parties from the inside than from the street.

Just recently in Alberta, some progressive voters got tired of being on the outside looking in on a 40-year Conservative dynasty.

They became voting members of the province’s Conservative party and were instrumental in having Red Tory Alison Redford elected leader and premier-designate.

The federal NDP is about to choose a new leader. The winner will be selected through a universal vote of the membership of the party. For anyone who cares to do so, having a say in the selection of the next federal leader of the official Opposition is only a membership card away.

Little more could change the internal dynamics of a party and its policy choices than a massive injection of new members.

The Occupy movement may be global in scope but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that its Canadian participants also have grievances against their federal, provincial and municipal governments. At a time when some Canadian ballot boxes are going half empty, those grievances have led them to the street, a move — some say — inspired by the recent Arab spring.

But the core aspiration of those who risked their lives by taking to the streets to topple authoritarian regimes in the Middle East was for the very kind of democratic process that we — in this country — are increasingly content to shrug off., October 18, 2011

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer with Record news services.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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