My fellow Canadians: The time has come once again to line up in a local school gymnasium for your chance to stand at a rickety school table, behind a folding cardboard barrier, and use a small stubby pencil to shape the future of our country.
Yes, it’s election time.
Or, if you’re a hipster who uses the Twitt-y thing, it’s #elxn42.
Whatever you call it, it’s time to VOTE!
Here’s why you should take the time:
- Just over 100 years ago, over half of Canadians did not have the right to vote. Federal voting eligibility was guided by provincial voting eligibility, and consequently neither women, nor Aboriginals, nor most visible minorities had the right to vote.
- Between 1900 and 1917, a series of provincial legal challenges were launched in an effort to enfranchise women and minorities, specifically people of “Asiatic” or Indian heritage. These had varying levels of success. Most successful were women, who were granted the right to vote in provincial elections in 1916 and 1917 in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia in 1918. Finally in 1918, An Act to Confer Electoral Franchise Upon Women grants women the right to vote in federal elections. As much as this is a victor, women in New Brunswick can vote provincially until 1919, and in Prince Edward Island they must wait until 1922.
Oh, but only white women.
- Legal challenges at the start of the century repeatedly failed to afford voting rights to minorities including Aboriginals and people of Asian heritage. The War-Time Elections Act of 1917 maintains the provincial voting-rights standard, thus barring minorities from voting in federal elections. In 1920, the federal government made the franchise universal, except for minorities and Aboriginal persons. Exclusion continued in 1938, when The Dominion Elections Act retained race as a grounds for exclusion from the federal franchise.
- Quebec women finally became eligible to cast their provincial ballots in 1939, the same year that B.C. continued to deny the right to Chinese, Japanese, Hindu or Indian persons.
- In 1948, the federal government finally repealed The Dominion Elections Act which had made race a grounds for exclusion, and in 1949 B.C. relented and allowed Japanese persons the right to vote in provincial elections.
- And in 1960, only 55 years ago, Aboriginal people were granted the right to vote in federal elections.
So why should any of this matter?
Think about this: There are people alive today whose right to vote did not exist at the time of their birth. If you are a white male, that’s not you, but it’s likely someone you know and care about, or at least someone of the same race or gender of a person you know and care about. Someone whose opinion, judgement and tenacity you admire, someone whose advice you cherish. We are all that person to someone else, and all of our voices should be heard in the halls of our Parliament.
Many of us are jaded about politics. We watch the campaign and we see the leaders – all of them – answer the media’s questions with vague, canned answers plucked directly from a platform document written by a policy wonk and edited by a communications expert. In other words – they don’t answer the questions.
The debates are the same. Time allotted to discuss specific issues is twisted into bite-sized stump speeches, mixed in with the occasional zinger that makes headlines simply because *anything* looks witty next to a clip of a party leader repeating a party slogan, or worse – just shouting over each other.
We have reason to be jaded about politics. But if you can bite your tongue and look past the nonsense, please recall that these are actually the people who will decide the policies that will shape the country. Our economy, our social policy, our security. These people will be our face to the world – or at least to the other world leaders who will decide how they will deal with Canada, how much they will open their borders for us to sell our wares, how openly they will welcome our people, and how significant our voice will be on matters of international importance.
These are the people who will decide your tax rate. Your retirement program. Your national security.
None of them are perfect. They are all actually quite far from perfect. But they are what we’ve got. And in the wise words of Rick Mercer:
“Many people complain that they don’t vote because it’s just like choosing the lesser of (three) evils. But people: when it comes to running the country, don’t we want the lesser of three evils?”
October 19th is voting day in Canada, but advance polls open up as early as this week, or you can vote by special ballot if you can’t attend one of the regular polls. Check with Elections Canada for details.