The Ontario election: Own Your Vote

A few weeks ago, Ontario was thrust into an unplanned but not totally unexpected provincial election. It was unplanned in that our minority Provincial government fell when their budget didn’t pass the legislature, but it was not unexpected as the Liberals could really only hope to hold onto power for so long given they do not hold a majority of the seats in Parliament.

I am the type of person who has always generally voted for the same party (aside from a few wild swing votes when I was young – and foolish). Too often, I violate that unspoken rule of not discussing politics or religion because I find both topics fascinating. But that also means that most of my friends know my political persuasion.

However, I’m not going to tell you which party I normally vote for (have fun guessing if you’d like!). I will tell you though that this time around, for the Ontario provincial election… I’m torn. I find myself a bit lost in the opaque world of the undecided voter.

Apparently I’m the voter that the parties are all supposed to be courting! A bit antsy about my newfound status, I eagerly looked forward to the candidates knocking on my door or the pollsters calling during the dinner hour. Sadly, none of the parties have thus far realized that my vote is up for grabs (although dinner time is blissfully uninterrupted).

However, I’ve been forced to take a much closer look at the parties and the candidates than I must admit I normally do. I’m generally a fairly well-informed voter but this time around I found myself not only combing the party websites trying to find their platforms (revelation: it’s almost impossible), but I also resorted to straight-up Googling their names and trolling for the non-election related hits, hoping to glimpse just exactly who the candidates are when they’re not trying to win my vote.

On top of my intrepid internet research, I’ve also spent more time than normal actually browsing through all the election related articles and memes that friends are posting to their Facebook accounts lately. This is a dangerous pastime because I often feel that the most entertaining part of such posts is the comments section after the article, and I’m easily distracted by the voyeuristic pleasure of listening in on these kinds of exchanges. But interestingly, aside from the expected nonsense of name calling and whining that often makes up the majority of the comments pages, it really seems like people are engaged and have some thoughtful comments and insight to add to the discussion this time around. As an undecided voter I can justify spending the scrolling time.

I’m also tuned in to the daily election reporting, and often spend my lunch hour reading articles from various papers and comparing their slant and their choice of issues on which to focus. The media is a funny funny beast, and it’s been a long time since I realized that newspapers and television programs are not generally the place to look for non-biased and non-judgemental provision of news. Newspapers and news channels are for the most part owned by corporations and exist to make profit; therefore almost all stories are immediately slanted towards achieving that goal. Add on top of that the increasing failure of editors to ensure their journalists actually report the news rather than editorialize it, and you soon find yourself swimming through a murky soup of agendas and personal bias so thick you wouldn’t recognize a real news story if it was attached to the life-preserver thrown in to save you.

So what have I learned from all of this, aside from whom I will or won’t vote for? Funnily enough, the lesson isn’t really about the candidates at all. The lesson is really about the process.

If you’ll allow me a bit of an idealistic moment, the process of deciding who you want to govern you (your town, your province, your country) is one of enormous privilege and responsibility. In Canada we are blessed, spoiled even, by how exceedingly smoothly our democracy runs. I have never once worried that I wouldn’t make it to a polling station, or that my vote would be ripped up / burned / otherwise defrauded. While I may have strongly disagreed with some candidates or parties, their existence has never threatened the safety and security of my city. There are no protests or military lines to pass through to get to the polling stations. The outcome of the election is not going to result in rebellion or chaos or violence against any of the diverse groups who make up the cultural mosaic of Canada (okay, that last cultural mosaic bit comes straight from high school political science, but they teach it to us because it’s mainly true).

So because of all this, I think we take our vote for granted. The familiar refrain is that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, nothing is going to change. Well, that’s probably pretty true in many respects. But, nothing is going to change because we already have it pretty darn good. I don’t mean to minimize any of our problems, including homelessness and poverty that desperately needs attention in some areas. But on the whole, we are extremely fortunate.

Nonetheless, the process of voting should be treated with the respect it deserves. And after spending weeks looking at the parties in this election, their ads and their allies, I’ve realized that the process is actually what we need to protect.

It is very easy to read an article in the paper and by the time you are finished, find yourself feeling much more positive about one candidate over another. We have to stop and question why this is! Question the facts in the stories you are reading. Try to imagine what the opposite argument would be for any points presented. Look up the author and see if you can figure out what his or her personal views are; it’s kind of scary when you realize how blatantly a journalist supports one political party over another, and yet their articles are filed as news rather than opinion. This shouldn’t be allowed, yet it is and we need to be aware of it.

Almost as insidious are the public statements of support issued by seemingly private or independent entities: unions and social agencies and such. I’ve been in a union, an extremely strong and vocal union, and they have absolutely no qualms about sending political messaging directly to their members in an effort to sway the votes. They also make “news” by having union leaders give speeches or statements either supporting or refuting the platforms of certain candidates. This is also true for social agencies and even charities, although one could argue that they at least are lobbying for significantly less selfish reasons.

In Canada, the biggest threat to our democracy is not outright violence or corruption; it is the subtle (or blatant) manipulation of the electorate on the whims of unions, corporations or lobbyists through privately owned news agencies and the sophisticated use of social media. Don’t let your vote be bought. Do your research, think carefully about the candidates, imagine the opposing viewpoints and determine which issues are most important to you and your family and your community.

Own Your Vote.

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