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Mock the Vote?

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

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A while back, during “La Revolucion de Common Sense” (or “Kamir Bleu”, as a friend called it), a strange phenomenon appeared. While Premier Mike Harris was basking in a majority government – the first back to back majority governments in 30 years - I couldn’t find a single person that voted for him. I don’t mean that I went to his Nipissing riding and conducted a door-to-door poll. I mean that, when the subject came up, not a soul admitted to voting for the PC’s. Quite the opposite. “I didn’t vote for them!” became a familiar refrain. Then where were the masses that elected this government? Their "slash and burn return listen to yourself churn" policies were affecting our most marginalized citizens, and no one I knew wanted to share the blame (or take the credit) for handing the reins to these cowfolk.

Dissension mounted. Protests raged. But that government was never overthrown.

That said, I am not using my position here to expound on my personal political beliefs. That’s not the point of this editorial (or thecannon.ca, for that matter). I use the Ontario PC Party and its policies only to highlight this very sobering point; In 1999’s election – the very election that garnered the PC’s their second majority – only 4 390 207 of 7 598 407 eligible voters went to the polls. That means only 57.8% of the potential electorate took the time to vote. Here in Guelph-Wellington, we can take pride that we beat the provincial average… by 1.3% !

On a federal level, we here in Guelph-Wellington hit the polls with a little more zeal than the national average; 61.1% of eligible voters here, with the national number being 58%. While it’s true that “issue-driven” elections drag out the vote (a bit more), there will always be hot-button issues that rear their heads long after the campaign has ended. Did anyone really see Walkerton, 9/11, the war with Iraq, de-criminalization of pot or same-sex marriages coming up the pike? If you did, pack your bags, you and I are going to Rama.

Where voters shone the brightest at laziness is exactly where their voice should be heard the loudest – municipally. Three years ago a mere 42.6% of eligible voters could be bothered. Less than half. Provincial downloading, tax hikes, Big Box stores, water shortages, transportation problems, raises for councillors....do any of these issues matter? Of course they do, more than most. There’s a prevailing belief that municipal government is a toothless tiger, that the mayor and councillors are merely “ornamental”. Oh sure, sometimes city council meetings can get bogged down with Mr. Johnson's request for a circular driveway, but they are charged with so much more. For example, with the provincial government downloading financial responsibility for various programs, land taxes (a municipal responsibility) have increased drastically in recent years.

“But I rent so I don’t pay land taxes.” Yes you do. I’m sure that the majority of informed tenants out there realize that a portion of their monthly rent goes to their landlord’s land taxes. You can, if you wish, ask for a statement including land tax payments from your landlord. If taxes rise, so does rent. This is but one small example of the immediacy and tangibility of municipal government. “Think globally – act locally”.

It concerns me that among certain demographics, overall voter apathy is being mistakenly labeled “activism”. Yes, it’s true that there is more to any democracy than marking an ‘X’ in a box every few years. Protest is not only a right, but in some cases it's an obligation. Make your voice heard. Make your presence felt. These are integral facets of a free society. But if you’re sincerely disenchanted with a government – if you feel that change is absolutely essential, you have to vote.

That is your right…and your obligation.

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