RM
Letters

(re why people don't vote - Toronto Star - original article at end of letter)

Editor -
I read with interest your article (Are young voters down for the count? LYNDA HURST Sep. 14, 2003) on why young voters, and others, are turning out less and less to vote the last few years, but am at a bit of a loss as to why your writer would not mention the single overriding reason for this phenomenon. Ms Hurst interviews various people who come up with various reasons for declining voter turnout - young people just don't vote because they're young or perhaps they are maturing at a later age, or that people don't vote because they're happy with the way things are (!!!), or even that great Canadian trait of apathy.

"No one is sure why...." young people and others aren't voting, your writer says.

Well - let me clear up the mystery for y'all.

In a nutshell, people are voting less and less because they are understanding more and more as each election under neoconservatist (you bet that includes Chretien's version of the Libs! - Paul Martin is well to the "right" of Mulroney) rule passes by that their votes are actually next to meaningless, and noone likes being played for a sucker - even though Mr. Bush has trouble with the words, most Canadians understand the concept well - "Fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice, shame on me". Canadians have been taken for fools a few too many times the last few elections and years, and are starting to show they're on to the game by not showing up at the farces called elections.

Your writer refers to the big turnout at the so-called 1988 "Free Trade" election to prove that Canadians will heed the call to vote when an issue is important to them - you may also recall that a very solid majority of Canadians voted against Mulroney's proposed deal - and then because of our antiquated voting system, in return for turning out to vote and voting to reject both Mulroney and his deal - he won a big majority government with 44% of the votes (representing around 33% of eligible voters, and I don't have time to chase down the figures, but a lot smaller percentage of all Canadians - we had many under-18s fighting against the deal who also lost out - I can't say for sure but probably a lot more than under-18s who supported it) - and that kind of thing tends to make people figure "What the h*ll's the point of voting, if THAT'S the way things work?!?" Fool me once....

Or you mention that people turn out to show their disfavour with someone (odd you would mention Bob Rae's defeat in 1995, but not Mulroney's in 1993, the greatest defeat of a Canadian PM in history, which was very much related to his previous "win" and the policies he pursued after that win) - perhaps because then one would have to carry on with the idea to its necessary conclusion - who replaced Mulroney at that time? That is, what was the result of their turfing of Mulroney??? - well, we got Jean Chretien, who promised all across the country that if he and the Libs were elected, he would "abrogate or renegotiate" the NAFTA that Mulroney was trying to implement following his FTA that nobody wanted - and when the voters this time, after rejecting the FTA but getting it anyway, rejected NAFTA, voting for the politician who said he would abrogate it, what did he do?!?! - well, as we all well know, within weeks of being elected, Chretien signed the NAFTA, with no renegotiation and no abrogation. So again - what was the result of the Canadians showing up to vote for a certain policy - this time, saying NO to NAFTA?!?! - well, once again, they got the exact opposite of what they voted for. Fool me twice.....

So in two of the most important elections of the last half of the 20th century, a solid majority of Canadian voters voted against a certain policy - and in return were given the policy they had firmly rejected at the ballot box.

Now just ask yourself - after being basically kicked in the teeth twice, and having their majoritarian decisions completely ignored, when the next election comes along, what are a lot of those voters going to think??? It's hardly rocket science, and I am at something of a loss as to how your writer is not making the obvious connection.

This happens with almost every major policy in Canada the last few years - poll after poll, for instance, shows that Canadians want their politicians to give priority to maintaining and improving the health care system, and that they don't really care much about lowering taxes for the wealthy - and yet for the last decade and longer, in a big way, their elected leaders, no matter who they are or what they have promised in elections, do exactly the opposite to what the voters want and what they have promised - they slash spending on health care and other programs important to Canadians, and slash taxes for the wealthy.

So you tell me - why WOULD people continue to vote when their votes seem to have no meaning, when the politicians continue to do exactly what the voters do not want them to do, and what they have promised not to do? Canadians do not want their education system torn asunder, nor to be thrown into a chaotic "market" system for their power needs - yet it is obvious that the politicians are not listening to them, and school budgets are slashed, schools closed and university tuition increased to where only the rich can afford to attend, and "free-market" electricity is in the books.

Young people are maybe a little inexperienced in the greater ways of the world, Mr. Editor, but they are not particularly stupid, and they are well aware of what is happening around them - and they see that in the modern world, it is the wealthy business interests that call the shots, not the lowly voters - and that is indeed a cynical view, and it is a tragedy that our society has come to this, but also quite inevitable given the politics of the last 30 years or so, when politicians have sold themselves shamelessly to wealthy business interests, as have most of the journalists and media who are supposed to be keeping an eye on them - perhaps the most important safeguard we are supposed to have in a democratic society, and it has been taken over by the same wealthy elite that has taken over the politicians.

So people see that not only do their votes not count anymore, but the brazen theft of their government is not even going to be discussed in the media they depend on for their information.

Barnum said rather famously about Americans that a sucker is born every minute - but regardless of what the politicians here seem to think, I think there are fewer of us in Canada, and we do not like being lied to and abused in this way, and, at least for now, withdrawing our support from those who continually lie to us and give us policies we do not want and they have promised NOT to do is the only weapon we have, given the almost complete failure of the media to pick up the torch of democracy and speak for the citizens who have been so terribly betrayed by our politicians. The Star is better than the others, with a number of good columnists, but this kind of story shows a rather disheartening failure on your part to get a debate going on the real reasons that Canadians are apparently rejecting their own democratic process. (Just imagine, if you will, a paper like the Star pushing for honest, truly representative and democratic government with the same fervour that the Post and Mr. Asper's other rags push for lower taxes for the wealthy!!!!)

As dictators and lying politicians have found out innumerable times throughout history, however, withholding a ballot is but the first step. You might ask people like King George of England, Empress Josephine of France, or the Czar of Russia what can happen when the people finally become so disgusted with their government that they take matters into their own hands a little more directly. We have a right to expect conditions to improve as time goes by and our wealth as a country grows and accumulates - but with the neocon governments of the last few years, things are only getting worse for most of us, and as the food banks grow in number and the hospitals and schools and infrastructure of our country continue to degrade while the wealthy grow wealthier, the discontent will also grow.

It would be good for Canada and good for democracy if your paper, Mr. Editor, had the courage and foresight to see what the problem really is with Canadians not voting, and become a national voice for true democracy and honest politics in Canada, before less peaceful measures become inevitable.

((NOTE!!! - No need to send this on to CSIS, the FBI, etc - I am NOT preaching violent revolution or threatening anyone! - it is not what I believe in. I am simply pointing out that history shows that such revolution inevitably follows periods such as the one we seem to be in, where the ruling class loses all sense of proportion and decides that they will expropriate ALL of the wealth of all of the people, and "let them eat cake", even though there is no cake to eat - a course which our current ruling class, with its endless huge tax cuts designed to reduce the operating budget of our democratic government, and slashing of all programs designed for average people, and "free trade" (i.e. reduce worker's pay and power) programs and debt-based currency, seems to be on.))

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Are young voters down for the count?
LYNDA HURST
Sep. 14, 2003.

Come the night of Oct. 2, pollsters and political parties won't just be hawk- eyeing the election results. They'll be toting up the total number of votes cast, praying it's higher than the dismal count last time round, a record low of 58 per cent. And that after the policies of then-premier Mike Harris had polarized Ontarians. Lately, it has been the same story in province after province, even in the last federal election in 2000, when the turnout dropped to a historic low of 61 per cent. For the past decade, the number of eligible voters who bother to tick a ballot much less consider it a civic duty has been in steady decline. And though the turnout rates for all age groups have been dipping, pulling their weight least of all are young adults. No surprise? Ever thus, analysts agree. The young tend not to vote simply because they're young; life's obligations haven't honed in on them yet. It's why few countries joined Canada, after the youthquake of the 1960s, in dropping the voting age to 18. Problem is, the recent turnout rates of young adults are 20 points below those of previous generations, including, predictably, the baby boomers. But then, they were young in the galvanizing early years of Pierre Trudeau when Canada was on a nationalist high. Things have changed since then. Those born since 1970, who came of age in the recession-ravaged '90s, aren't showing up on the political radar screen at least the traditional one. And no one is sure why. "We could be seeing a disengagement that's more than a characteristic of their youth," says Michael Adams, president of Environics Research. "They may carry it through life." And the implications of that are fearsome, say analysts. If today's twentysomethings become lifelong electoral no-shows, the traditional older generation, depended on to cast its votes in huge numbers, won't be replaced. What then? Elected governments would have less legitimacy, they warn. Notions of democratic representation could be set adrift. As the Centre for Research and Information on Canada put it after the last federal election: "The more citizens become non-participants in key political events such as elections, the greater the likelihood that appeals to shared values and common purpose will fall on deaf ears." But things may not be quite that alarming. "Today's twentysomethings are what teenagers used to be," says Adams. The young may come around, he and others argue, when they get their first mortgage, have their first child, their first encounter with tax rates or an overstressed health-care system. Like many researchers, Adams believes that low turnouts, in any age group, are as much a mark of contentment as disinterest. But he stresses that there has been a change in attitude among Canadians, that has perceptibly risen as turnouts have dropped and that isn't about to reverse itself. People perceive the power of governments to be declining in a globalized world, he says, and they're becoming more autonomous and self-reliant because of it. That new consensus "means that voting doesn't matter as much as it once did." The view is supported by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada. A recent study concluded that Canadians are better educated, more informed, more independent in their thinking, less attached to their community and less deferential to authority and tradition "all of which reduces the sense of civic obligation to vote." Lower turnouts will carry on into the future, Adams predicts, with intermittent surges of voter activity. When an issue spurs Canadians (as free trade did in the 1988 federal election), when they want to punish a governing party (Ontario's New Democrats in 1995), when an election is a horse race, not a walkover (federally in 2000) or even when a rare charismatic leader arises as in 1968 with Trudeau voters turn out to be counted. Canadians always have, Adams says, and always will. That presumes, however, that today's young eventually snap out of their political lethargy. Neil Nevitte isn't sure they will. The political scientist and co-investigator of Elections Canada's report on the 2000 vote is mystified about why large numbers of potential voters born after 1970 are so disengaged. Yes, he says, political parties are "remarkably unimaginative" in reaching out to them. But there is more to it than that. "Something has changed in the last few years," says Nevitte. "Young people know less, a lot less, and they care a lot less. It isn't political disaffection, it's apathy. Not voting isn't a protest they're just not tuned in." The biggest change is among those with lower levels of education, half of whom can't name the current prime minister. But the biggest paradox, he says, is among well-educated youth. Voting is directly linked to education: the more educated an electorate, the bigger the turnout. Canada's young are highly educated, so logically, says Nevitte, their low turnouts shouldn't be happening. He's not referring to those politically engaged youth, who, since the late 1990s, have taken to protesting at economic summits since the recession-torn '90s. It's a myth that the activists don't vote, he says. They're more likely to support fringe groups, like the Green party, or at most, the NDP, which, in recent years, has left little mark on final outcomes. For Nevitte, it's the rest of the well-educated age group that poses the puzzle. In 2001, their indifference to current events in general and politics in particular was voiced by, of all people, Justin Trudeau. Then 29, the eldest son of former prime minister Trudeau sent a chill down many a spine when he told a reporter, "I don't read newspapers. I don't watch the news. I figure, if something happens, someone will tell me." He undoubtedly reflected the attitude of many his age. And not just Canadians. Youth voting rates have fallen 10 points in recent European elections in Europe. In Britain, where turnout has plummeted over the last three elections from 75 per cent to 59 per cent, the pros and cons of on-line voting as a lure to the young are being debated. If the winner of TV's Big Brother can elicit millions of e-mail votes, advocates argue, why shouldn't various honourable members? Because, say critics there and in Canada, if people are interested in the message, the medium doesn't matter. A study done by the European Union found that the problem isn't just that political parties target the middle-aged middle-class, the demographic that pays the bulk of taxes and can be depended on to vote. "To some extent," it concluded, "the decline in youth participation stems from the successes of democracy not its failures." Indeed, several studies have shown that young adults are not dissatisfied with how society is functioning. In which case, some argue, does it matter if they, or anybody else, doesn't vote so long as interested, informed people do? "People ask, `Why dilute the integrity of the electorate's judgment with the votes of reluctant, disengaged citizens?'"says Michael Marzolini, head of Pollara Inc. (He's currently tracking the ups and downs of Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty's appeal to Ontario voters.) "As long as involved Canadians do vote, okay," he says. "If others have no interest, I see no problem if they don't vote. A good leader represents everybody." But there's the rub, says political scientist Nevitte. Can good leaders, "wise people" who represent the interests of all, be guaranteed? That was the reasoning used to keep women from having the vote, he says. If appeals to civic duty don't register with the apathetic and uninformed at any age is there anything that could increase turnouts? Ideas are thick on the ground: Proportional representation where seats are determined by the proportion of votes a party receives is known to increase turnout in the scores of countries that use some form of it. Promoters say voters show up when they know that the less dominating parties have a fair shot of electing candidates. But the system generally leads to minority governments, say critics, with multiple parties trying to govern, bogged down by endless ad-hoc coalitions. Giving people a tax credit if they vote has been floated, along with the suggestion that the country's 5 million landed immigrants be granted the right. Demographers say that new citizens vote on a par with native-born Canadians taking into account education levels and some groups' cultural inhibitions on females voting. A mandatory system where people are fined if they don't vote or, rather, show their face at the polling station is used in 24 countries, Australia included. Turnouts there average in the mid-80 per cent. The strong-arm tactic has always been anathema here, not least for the bureaucracy needed to police it. But Chief Elections Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley seemed to put Canadians on notice after the abysmal turnout in 2000: "The idea of compulsory voting is repugnant to me," he said. "But if we start dipping below 60 per cent, I may have to change my mind." Something to think about on the way to the polling station.



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