Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why feel-good voting campaigns are misguided

As I wrote three years ago, I'm sick of feel-good campaigns that try to get everyone over the age eighteen with a pulse (or no pulse if you vote the right way) to vote. On top of that, not voting is portrayed as an unpatriotic, antisocial activity.

This is not productive, helpful or accurate for a number of reasons. I'm not sure if I'll vote in next month's election because of the steps involved, but even if I was voting, it's ridiculous to argue that the only (or the most) meaningful way in which a citizen can serve the state is to engage with the electoral process. One of the reasons for the decline in voting, however unfortunate and however untrue, is that Canadians increasingly feel that there are other ways to engage with politics outside of voting.

Voter apathy is, of course, unfortunate. Misgovernance and injustice do rely on the ignorance and apathy of voters who are either distracted by things like tax cuts or petty union struggles, or simply indifferent. The duty of citizens to be informed is real, though if we don't excoriate the population of the segment that doesn't read newspapers on the 1,800 days that are normally (this is the fourth in seven years) between federal elections, why turn voting into a feel-good exercise that unites conservatives and liberals, idiots and the intelligent?

While on one hand, an informed citizen who has decided that the Conservative government ought to be kept in power or voted out truly ought to act on that belief, demanding that otherwise unengaged or unsatisfied voters engage or satisfy themselves because it's what people do is absurd. The claim that you can't complain if you didn't vote is absurd; this means teenagers, immigrants and outsiders can't comment on our politics. This also means that someone who voted for a party that said it would ban the consumption of milk and then carried out its promise has the right to complain.

Voting is a right, not a duty. All of us should vote, but there are enough of us who know how politics work to know that this is not a life-changing election, to the extent that there are ever life-changing elections in our country. So much of the change in our lives, for better or for worse, is driven by education, business and factors and actors external to Canada that at best the federal government is in the position of offering a limited reaction to our lives and our world.

I believe that a strong federal government will do the best for Canada, but I also know that the people who run our federal government have a limited capacity to affect change, for better or for worse. While the Conservatives have taken the last five years to do real damage to our parliamentary democracy, I don't know that I could ever vote for the Liberals either. Every time I think about voting for a party, I think of the sort of truth-flexible person who decides to join and work for a political party. Even if I end up voting, I will certainly respect the rights and indifference of those who do not vote.

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