Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Election Day

If you live in Canada and haven't noticed yet, we've got an election happening on this side of the border too. Sure, we don't have charismatic, groundbreaking candidates like Barack Obama or VP wannabees that light up screens and fire up debates like Sarah Palin, but it's an important event nonetheless.

Faced with choosing from the usual parties - Liberals, Conservatives - we're lucky to have strong contenders in the NDP this time around. And thanks to a poor political decision by the so-called main parties to dismiss Green leader Elizabeth May, our most environmentally conscious party is also attracting some attention - though they probably won't win any seats. And the Bloc, is, as always, present, but barely.

To me, this campaign has been a fight on several levels. Not only did Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe and Elizabeth May have to battle each other on the silver screen and on the streets, they also had to fight for the attention of Canadian citizens. While this is always the case - Canadians do vote, but tend to have a defeatist attitude as to the importance of their choice - this campaign was especially tough due to the stiff competition south (and north west) of the border.

In fact, I'd say most Canadians are more concerned about the American elections than the Canadian ones. They care more about the issues, candidates and platforms in the US of A than those in their own backyards. Indeed, CBC did a fun piece asking students who they were voting for, and most said they would vote for Obama (or McCain, in rare occurrences). Most of them didn't even consider that a reporter from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would be referring to the Canadian elections. A large portion of respondents couldn't name our country's Prime Minister, let alone the leaders of our main political parties. Not to mention that many weren't even aware that we were having elections of our own.

Now that's freaky! How can we trust others to elect the right leaders to promote the causes that matter to us as individuals and as a country when most of the population don't know these people exist... and couldn't care less?

Yes, I agree that what happens in the USA is important to Canada, and it is on many levels - political, economical, environmental, geographical, military-wise and trade-wise... But when a Canadian chooses to watch a debate between US Vice Presidential candidates over the one and only English-language Canadian leaders debate, how can you not be a little shell shocked?

I mean, sure, there are replays and extracts and loads of analysis - but you'll get the same for the less-relevant-to-you USA VP debate. Just tune in to CNN Headline News any time of day and you'll get your fix. Browse the Internet, watch the morning shows or daytime talk shows. Or late night comedy shows, for that matter. You'll be caught up in no time.

But in Canada, where coverage is not as extensive due to more limited resources - and lets not kid ourselves, limited interest - how can you not watch the debate live? The way the leaders interact, the tone of their voices, when they choose to get angry and when they choose to remain calm... That says a lot about them as people, as party leaders, as politicians, and as potential leaders of our country. Of YOUR country. How can YOU not take that seriously?

I bet that in most news-watching households in Canada, the US election is more prominently featured as dinner-time programming then our Canadian equivalent. I know this to be true in my area, at least. Sure, the Canadian election gets its air time as well... but as soon as we've got the latest update, it's time to click back to analysis of Obama, McCain, Biden or Palin's latest speech. Every day, 24/7.

Even today, on election day, most people are still thinking about whether or not they'll vote. I can't say I've decided who I'm going to vote for, but I'm most definitely going to get my lazy butt out of my pyjamas and walk to my polling station to mark my ballot. Because it's important for me to have a say, even if I don't think my voice will change anything. Especially in a riding like mine, which could be considered an automatic seat for one of the main parties. Still, if I don't vote, then I can't complain about the results, can I?

Did you know that political parties actually get cash for every vote in their favour? So whether or not you can change anything in the short run, you do have a direct impact on your favourite party's future influence and activities.

What if you can't put your faith in a certain leader? Then vote for the platform that seems most deserving to you (do your research thanks to this great tool, courtesy of CBC).

Even that option can be tough when you don't agree with a party's stance on all the issues, but as always, politics, and any kind of democratic system, really, is about picking the lesser of two evils. Think back to your class president elections in high school. It's the same deal, but on a bigger scale. And even if you didn't care who would lead your class to greatness back then, chances are you cast your vote anyway so you wouldn't feel left out. Just to go through the motions.

So why not here, why not now, when your voice is so much more important?

You might not concern yourself with the outcome of the elections, or maybe you really, truly believe that no one party or leader fits the bill. Then spoil your ballot. Spoil your ballot to make it count. Did you know that if enough people spoil their ballots - and in doing so declare that none of the choices are suitable - the results in that riding can be refused? We'd get another chance to have our say - and hopefully, our little rebellion would cause the parties to change their stance or offer better alternatives.

No matter how you see it, voting is not just a right. It's a responsibility. By not voting, you're letting down your neighbours and your riding, your fellow citizens across Canada, the populations in countries around the world that depend on Canada for food, aid, funding and development, the scientist and artists here at home who also need funding for research or to work... Or simply to survive...

By not voting, you're not only letting everyone else down, you're also letting yourself down.

And how, may I ask, can you live with that?

Please. Go vote today. It's your only chance to have a say, on a small or big scale. Embrace your Canadian citizenship. And don't forget... if you don't vote, you can't complain!

Find your polling station - and register to vote on location! - at www.electionscanada.ca.

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