COLUMN: Voting is a privilege, so why do we treat it like a chore?

Trevor laments Canadians’ poor record of turning out to vote

I’m a big supporter of election interference — as long as it’s by the electorate.

In recent years, it hasn’t been, with voter turnout trending downward (despite a hopeful 2015 result of 68.5 per cent — our highest since 1993).

Many know 2008 was our most abysmal showing, with only 58.8 per cent of the electorate casting a vote.

What’s more concerning is how quickly turnout seems to have plummeted.

Five out of our last six elections have had turnouts below 65 per cent.

By contrast, 34 out of the 36 prior to that were above 65 per cent, with 1891 and 1896 the odd years out at 64.4 and 62.9, respectively.

That’s not good.

In fact, it’s very bad.

Not because people should feel compelled to vote, but, ideally, because their options should inspire them to.

And while Skeena-Bulkley voters are lucky in that respect (regardless of how you feel about Nathan Cullen personally, someone who has been elected to office times times in a row — with over 50 per cent support in their last two elections — has to be doing something right) it seems Canada as a whole does not feel like they have a lot going for them.

An Abacus polling report came out in May analyzing voters impressions on party leaders. It found only 32 per cent of respondents had a favourable view of Trudeau.

But other leaders didn’t fare much better, with Scheer, May and Singh receiving 31, 27 and 24 per cent, respectively.

People don’t seem to be overly inspired by any of the major political offerings this year.

However, almost contradictory to this is how our political climate seems to be more divisive than ever.

And while these two things — unhappiness with major candidates and a growing disconnect between our electorate — initially seemed like separate issues to me, I have a growing feeling they are connected.

Increasingly more than ever people are finding themselves voting against candidates and not for them. We saw it with Trudeau (voting for anyone but Stephen Harper) in 2015. Nearly a year later, we saw what perhaps is the best example of the “lesser-of-two-evils” scenario in a lifelong politician whose pre-election favorability was second worst in the history of presidential polling history, only to her opponent, a brash populist who has never held political office.

Now the cycle has come full circle, and we’re seeing calls for Trudeau to be replaced (we just can’t collectively, as a country, agree on who his replacement should be). Is it really any surprise people are feeling disenfranchised?

As a voter, I want a party to feel excited about, not a party I feel like I “have” to vote for, out of fear for a “worse” one getting in.

That’s not how we win votes or inspire confidence in democracy, it’s how we perpetuate the system we’re in right now.

The same system that will likely see us wanting Trudeau’s eventual replacement (whether in 2019 or a future election) out in one to eight years, depending on what sort of a mandate they get.

The same one that allows politicians to make grand promises (first-past-the-post reform, a budget that would balance itself in 2019, to name a few) and then completely renege on them because they know their voters have very few alternative choices to turn to. It would be a lie to say our system will be easy to fix. But I would also be a lie, and it’s a much more deceptive, insidious kind of lie, to say doing nothing and waiting around for a “saviour” or “messiah” political type is going to work.

As much as I’m a big believer in voting (even if it’s just declining a ballot) I’m realizing our low voter turnouts aren’t due to ignorance or a loss of respect for democracy in younger generations — quite the opposite.

If you want people to vote, you have to give them someone worth voting for, and I think this is something many adults (but especially the tech-savvy, fact-checking youth of today) are realizing more now than ever.

And with the All-Candidates debates starting last week in our own little (read: not so little) corner of B.C., here’s hoping someone’s up for the challenge of giving voters that voice in Skeena-Bulkley Valley.



trevor.hewitt@interior-news.com

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