Time for change


Canadian Election, 2006

I have never felt closer to an election than I have with the one just finished. And I didn’t even vote. Before you go crazy and start spitting rhetoric about democratic rights, laziness, and political apathy, allow me to explain why.

The federal election system in Canada looks something like this: each representative citizen over the age of majority (18) is allowed to place a single mark signifying which of the three (cough, four) possible parties will represent the values of the country as a whole. Each person gets one attempt to make one choice. Everything else- all the intentionally ruined, accidentally spoiled, and formally declined ballots along with those dastardly non-voters- is not considered.

The process looks like this: voting for a candidate encompasses information the electoral system understands and everything else is just meaningless noise. But therein lays the problem. Since the system itself only recognizes positive support, no form of dissent, disagreement, or difference can be recognized. All you can do is pick your best-fit party. And this makes efforts at effecting systemic change very, very difficult; after all, that’s the point.

So I was there today, in my polling station, talking to a representative from Elections Canada. I had every intention of “declining my ballot” in order to indicate on record my dissatisfaction with the election process. But when I was told that my refusal gets grouped along with all the other pieces of electoral white-noise, I had to reconsider.

Imagine a restaurant. There are four chefs each touting the meal they’d like to prepare. The patrons individually vote on which meal they’d like served for both themselves and the rest of the room. Only one can be chosen: roast beef, pork chops, veal, or steak. If you really agree with one of the choices, fine. But what if you’re a vegetarian? What recourse do you have?

Currently there are no figures reported for declined ballots in a federal election (and only some provinces count them). But there does seem to be a great deal of concern with the lax levels of voter turnout. So I sided with them. Instead of choosing a candidate or party I support, instead of voicing my upset with the process itself, I added my name to the growing number of people who simply find themselves unrepresented.

I know I’ll get grouped as a “lazy” citizen- just like some semi-Conservatives will get grouped with abortion-hating cowboys from the West. It’s a sad reality. But since my position is not supported or recognized by the official system, I see no other choice.

Almost. There are a growing number of people who share my sentiment. If you find yourself among them and would like to see more than a simple rotation of so-called “lesser evils”, I urge you to petition the federal government and demand electoral change. A good place to start is here: www.fairvote.ca.

I have never felt closer to an election than with the one just finished. But make no mistake: this is because of personal investment, not return. Until voting practices in Canada change, I will forever count myself among the people who see an unwanted candidate rise to office. Perhaps you might now not be so quick to turn up your nose at the growing number of Canadians who fail to cast their ballot. Perhaps you may even choose to count yourself among them.