Election season has begun here in Canada and abroad. Votes in Alberta and PEI (and in the United Kingdom as well) take place next week. There will be a federal election in the fall and several other provinces and territories will hold votes, either in the fall or next spring. Within 12 months the political face of Canada could be substantially changed. It makes an old political junky practically dizzy with excitement.
And I’m not the only one. Lots of people are getting ready to ‘vote the bastards out,’ or more positively ‘vote for change.’ Others are perfectly happy with the status quo but like people who go to a dance and refuse to swing out on the floor with anyone but the one who brought them — they are less interesting than those who are open to new experiences.
Sometimes in the to and fro of political debate we forget just how rare a privilege it is to be able to vote in a free and fair election. Despite questionable tinkering with the Canadian election act it is foolish — and really rank partisanship — to suggest we don’t have that opportunity in Canada. To compare us to the fake democracy of Kazakhstan or even the promised improvements in Myanmar is, well, a trifle jejune. As for all those countries under the heel of tyranny or the chaos of anarchy, there is no comparison.
I was reminded of this the other day while taking a cab ride. I don’t ride in cabs much but with a bum knee I’ve been getting more opportunities. The driver, when I mentioned I worked on Parliament Hill, became quite animated. He questioned me closely about the parties and their leaders, asking my opinion of their qualities and policies. He confessed he didn’t even like the word ‘conservative’ but was willing to check them out. He then told me that this fall will be his first chance to vote. No he isn’t 18 — he is a recent Canadian citizen who came to Canada from Ethiopia five years ago. He was keen to exercise his franchise.
It reminds me of the times I’ve worked as a deputy returning officer during elections — a job I’d recommend to anyone. Seeing new Canadians cast their first vote is an amazing experience. I remember one family who came in — father, mother and three children aged 8 to 15 or so. The father was practically weeping as he got his ballot and proudly went behind the curtain to mark it and then deposit it. The mother did weep. So did I, a little. The kids beamed with pride as their father explained to them that he was voting for the first time in his forty four years. Not that he was a slacker — he came from a place that had no democracy.
Equally exciting was when the group of eighteen year olds — all pierced and tattooed and dressed in leather — came to cast their vote together. Five first time voters exercising their right to say what they thought. I’ve often wondered who they voted for.
Personally, I’ve only ever once failed to vote (in a municipal election in the 80s). I have no intention of quitting anytime soon.
But that’s ten minutes.