RM Issue #031003
PEI shows us how
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
In Ontario, something less than 70 per cent of registered voters generally come out to vote on a sunny election day. In Prince Edward Island, about 83 per cent came out to vote in a hurricane.
Prince Edward Islanders typically vote in greater numbers than the rest of us -- perhaps because it's a small place and people know their candidates as neighbours, perhaps because they just have a good, small-town sense of civic responsibility. But this was no typical election. The tail end of the hurricane that devastated Halifax was buffeting the island on Monday when polls opened for a provincial election.
The storm had knocked out electrical power for about 44,000 of the island's 135,000 people. Many streets were clogged with fallen tree branches. Islanders turned out anyway, shrugging off the dirty weather and re-electing Premier Pat Binns and his Conservatives. Merrill Wigginton, the chief electoral officer, had to use a chainsaw to clear his driveway in order to get out and run the election. At some blacked-out polling stations, votes were counted by candlelight or kerosene lamp.
Here is an example for us all. Voter turnout has been dropping in Canada for more than a decade. Just 61 per cent of registered voters cast ballots in the last federal election. In New Brunswick this year, the turnout was 69 per cent, down from 76 per cent last time around. In Nova Scotia, it was 66 per cent, down from 75 per cent in 1988. Even in Quebec, where voters used to come out in greater numbers than any other province, turnout has tailed off, touching just 70 per cent in this spring's election.
The experts blame politicians for engaging in slanging matches that turn voters off. They blame the media for reflecting a cheap cynicism about politics and those who practise it. They blame busy modern life for narrowing the time that people have to consider the issues and to decide who to vote for. All these things may play some role, but at bottom, they're excuses.
In a democracy, voting is a duty. Canada has no law requiring citizens to vote, but the duty is no less real. If you fail to vote, you not only weaken the system of government that makes Canada the wonderful place that it is, you also rob yourself. By failing to make a choice, you let others choose for you. Those who deliberately decide not to exercise this simplest responsibility of citizenship have no right to complain about the irrelevance of politics, because they contribute to it.
Hats off to Prince Edward Islanders for recognizing that and turning out on Monday, hurricane be damned.