Low voter turnout a bad sign


We’ve been through a federal, municipal and a provincial election in fairly short order and suffering from voting fatigue, which could explain why less than 50 per cent of eligible Ontario voters bothered to cast their vote last week.

But, are we suffering from too much democracy? The concern about low voter turnout is not being adequately looked at to understand why so many people are so disengaged.

We could blame the people who are campaigning for office. Perhaps the less than inspiring campaigns failed to engage the more than 50 per cent of eligible voters who chose not to go to the polls.

In other countries, when the economy is threatened, meaning that when the loss of people’s livelihoods is a cause for worry, the electorate becomes highly engaged. They understand that decisions being made will have a strong influence on how they will manage their day-to-day existence.

Perhaps the reason that the Canadian voting public doesn’t turn out in greater numbers is that, as a nation, we are fairly comfortable. We are not desperate – at least not yet. We hear how our banking system is prudent and that we are safe from the economic chaos that is moving through other jurisdictions and we feel that we can go about our business as usual.

How long that will continue as we keep getting news of the impending bankruptcy of economies on distant shores remains to be seen.

Right now in America there is a growing movement of protesters taking to the streets to let their leaders know that they are unhappy with the systems that put them at a disadvantage. In what is arguably the wealthiest nation in the world people are protesting, demanding that their politicians do something to improve their economic condition.

Up here in ‘the true north, strong and free’ we can’t get people out even in nice weather to vote for the direction their future will take.

It could be cynicism about the choices that we have in our various political parties. During the political campaign that just ended it was hard to recognize any significant difference between the platforms being presented by the left, right or centre of the political spectrum. The differences came down to the bland guy, the one who always carried his baby with him and the blond woman, and not enough of us cared enough to cast a ballot.

We need a more engaged electorate. If politicians feel that we are in a somnambulant state then they will carry through with policies and priorities that do not reflect the vested concerns of the people they are elected to serve. And as much as we like to blame politicians, that would be our fault.

Even so, what needs to happen now is for politicians to take the time to wade into the crowd and ask the hard questions in order to understand this growing disengagement.

People find politicians remote and inaccessible, sometimes even at election time. They also find the issues that politicians give high profile to do not relate to their concerns as everyday people.

Politicians often speak in abstract about shelter, affordable food and decent paying, meaningful employment, even during election campaigns. Most of then have only a passing sense of what it means to live hand to mouth, to eke out a living and to be uncertain whether there will be enough money for rent, hydro, food and medication.

Moreover, it can feel as if they will never get around to addressing in any concrete way these fundamental matters. In fact, it is clear that every time measures have to be taken to respond to their budget limitations they make decisions that hurt the most vulnerable and needy in society. This is why we have to shake off our sleepy state and put the pressure on to focus their attention on creating programs that speak to everyday matters.

Yes, it’s great that they have grand schemes, but if these plans feel far away from our daily lives it is hard to want to cast a vote in that direction. Still, for the sake of our tomorrow we must become engaged today.

A note on politicians flouting the law…

Apparently Mayor Rob Ford has been observed yet again using his mobile phone while driving. Should he be praised for not spending money on hiring a driver and instead driving himself thus saving the taxpayer some money, or should he be sanctioned for acting as if he’s above the law?

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