Loose Cannon: A near-miss election for near-miss voters

Monday, September 28, 2009

  • When
we narrowly avoid an election, perhaps it's a good idea to think about
election preparedness. (istock photo/Maria Toutoud

    When we narrowly avoid an election, perhaps it's a good idea to think about election preparedness. (istock photo/Maria Toutoud

Written by Greg Beneteau

Last Friday the minority Conservative government avoided an election when its budget motion passed on Friday with support from the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. The Liberal Party voted against the motion, marking the first time that the Grits have opposed a confidence measure since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2006.

The fallout over appearances – whether the Liberals have the moral high ground, whether the NDP and the Bloc are trying to make the most of a minority government, or whether the Conservatives got the last laugh – and the fact most Canadians indicated they would rather choke on a turkey bone than have an election campaign, will likely keep the pundits occupied for some time.

But I'll skip right past the partisan debate and instead ask a simple question: If an election campaign had been called, would you have been ready for it?

The 18-to-24 age group is the least represented demographic at the polling station. Most studies put young voter turnout in federal elections at half of the national average, which itself hit a new low in 2008 when only 59.1 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.

I've heard numerous excuses for why students don't vote. Most have less to do with apathy than a failure to plan ahead. If your classes run from dawn until dusk on voting day and you don't know where your polling centre is or who the candidates are (because of classes, you see), the reasons to stay home start to pile up.

Fortunately, we're not having an election. We nearly had an election, which is actually a great opportunity because it gets you thinking about politics with plenty of time to spare.

A health scare can prompt changes to one's lifestyle. A brush with tragedy reminds us of our commitment to our loved ones. When we narrowly avoid an election, perhaps it's a good idea to think about election preparedness.

First, the basics. If you want to vote in Guelph, you need a piece of government-issued photo ID and proof of your address, like a lease agreement or a letter of attestation from your residence. Elections Canada keeps a complete list of acceptable documents online. Alternately, someone living in your voting district, like a roommate, can vouch for you, so long as they can prove their own identity and address.

It also helps to know your rights and privileges as a voter, so you can take advantage of them when the writ is dropped. Under the Canada Elections Act, employees are entitled to three consecutive hours to vote during polling hours, and time taken off to vote cannot be deducted from your pay.

If your class schedule is hectic, consider voting at an advance polling station or registering online with Elections Canada to have your ballot mailed (yes, mailed) to you. If you're living on campus, Elections Canada and the University of Guelph have arranged to bring the polling stations to you, so there's no need to scramble for transportation.

But the most important way students can prepare for an election is by finding a compelling reason to vote. On this topic, I sometimes wonder if we aren't scaring first-time voters with talk of changing the future of the country at the ballot box. 

"Your vote is the way you choose someone to represent you in the House of Commons," notes Elections Canada on its website for young voters. "By making your choice, you are participating in democracy. The democratic right to vote is key to our system of government, a system that generations of Canadians have fought to build."

It sounds like a pretty daunting standard to uphold. I've lost count of the number of peers who've told me they didn't know enough about "the issues" to vote; that the consequences of making a wrong choice were too disastrous to be left to the partially-informed.

The reality is, no one thinks about every single issue when they vote. People think about their own issues and vote accordingly. Hell, some people vote for the same party out of sheer habit.

If you have the capacity to think critically about your own values and priorities, you have the ability to choose a candidate for public office, or even run for office yourself, should you choose.

We had a near-miss election for a bunch of near-miss voters. Now is the time to start thinking about the real deal.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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