Caleigh MacDonald, staff
The federal government’s proposed Fair Elections Act has been controversial with voters in Canada who feel the system’s overhaul is both unfair and undemocratic. This bill would revamp the current Elections Act, increasing the amount that can be contributed by individuals to campaigns, limiting the ability of Elections Canada to encourage the general population to vote, and modifying the scope of power possessed by the chief electoral officer.
The proposed changes—which were allegedly designed to crack down on things like the robocall scandal of 2011 and to improve the integrity of our electoral system in general—have come under heavy fire from many who feel that the changes to the current system would damage the Canadian democratic process – a system which some already see as flawed in structure and practice.
A recent issue of the Manitoban featured an article by our own comment editor, Katerina Tefft, which was similar in nature in its criticism of Canadian democracy. Tefft expressed dissatisfaction with the Canadian electoral system as a whole, and in essence called the proposed changes irrelevant, saying, “You can’t break what’s already broken.”
Tefft further urged people to express their dissatisfaction by refusing to vote at all. Instead of voting, she suggested individuals should become politically active in other ways by attending protests, participating in educational events, and staging demonstrations.
The problem with this is that while all of those methods of political activity are perfectly acceptable forms of being involved, by giving up your vote, you are also giving up the thing that makes you valuable to politicians. Renouncing the action that makes you worth listening to effectively weakens the little political influence you have in a country of over 35 million.
The fact is, while politicians do, I’m sure, pursue elected office at least in some part as a means of enacting what they see as positive change for their country, they also want job security. They want to be re-elected; as such, a large portion of their jobs are geared towards pleasing voters. They may not know you personally, but ideally they want to please you enough that you’ll prefer them to their opponents.
The democratic electoral process is a bit like a game of Monopoly in this way – where voters are the equivalent of property squares. Each player is a politician who wants to have more of the property—or voters—under their control. To do this they have to please voters, essentially “buying” approval through their platforms, campaign promises, and the way that they deal in the political game.
If you’re not voting, you aren’t worth anything to the players. You become a worthless square on the Monopoly board, the equivalent of the “Go” space on the first move of the game. Sure, you aren’t directly helping them keep their jobs, but you aren’t voting for the opposition either, which would put their jobs in danger. Since you aren’t the person they need to please, they aren’t going to bother trying. Why would they, after all?
This isn’t to say that Tefft was not correct in her assertions that there are deep and highly problematic flaws in the Canadian electoral system. But the system is not independent of the government itself. It was built and is shaped by the hands of our government, which in turn are made up of the people that we put in office. If you want to change how the system evolves, it is far more effective to alter the entity that moulds it than to opt-out completely.
The reality is that we live with a democratic system that relies on the votes of people to sustain it. The way it’s currently structured, it will use whatever votes it gets, even if those votes only represent a small portion of the actual population.
Unless every single voter boycotts the election, the system will live on, carrying out the wishes of the people that provide the politicians with their positions. Just as a person trying to cut down a tree would be unwise to throw away their axe, a person trying to impact politics would be a fool to discard the most influential tool they have; it should be used.
Don’t like the candidates from the major parties? Vote for a small party. Vote Animal Alliance Environment, United, Marijuana, Libertarian, or Canada Action. They may not win, but you will have utilized your political power, and whether you see it immediately or not, your dissenting vote does make a difference. Election results are significant for parties. If, after the passing of this policy, a major party looks at election results and suddenly sees that not only did their voting numbers go down, but suddenly a significant portion of the population is voting for the parties that nobody had heard of before, they will notice.
So while Tefft is right to say that political activity is not “voting once every four years and sitting on your couch watching television the rest of the time,” it is incorrect to consider not voting to be a show of political activity. While you can shout in the streets, make protest signs, and block off as many roads as you wish, in the end it’s always the voters that the politicians listen to first.
It’s for this reason that, while I’ve had my fair share of being “poli-ticked off” too, you’ll still see me casting my ballot when the time comes. I truly believe that voting itself is not giving up your power. Voting is using the power you have to your best advantage. It is only if you choose to throw that away on uninformed choices or apathy that you become truly powerless.
You can call it naivety if you like, but I’m not ready to give up on our entire system just yet.