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THE VIEW FROM HERE: A thought or two on democracy

In Canada, it's not normal for voters to dislike and disagree with their opponents as strongly as politicians do. When that begins to change, society starts to polarize, says Mark Coffin.
In Canada, it's not normal for voters to dislike and disagree with their opponents as strongly as politicians do. When that begins to change, society starts to polarize, says Mark Coffin. - 123RF Stock Photo

I believe that we live in the greatest nation in the world. We are fortunate to live in a country where we have so many rights and freedoms that we take mostly for granted. 

Case in point, is our right to vote.  

Every four or five years we get the opportunity to decide who is going to govern our province or country, yet heading into the federal election on Oct. 21, I am absolutely disheartened, disturbed, discouraged and dismayed to hear so many people openly declare that they don’t follow politics and as such they won’t be voting in this or any election. Instead, they believe “all politicians are crooks” and that “they are only out to line their own pockets” or that “they don’t do anything for the people after they’re elected.” 

Now, I will concede that over the years we have seen some dirty politicians who, indeed, were only in the game to further their own causes. I’ll also acknowledge that we’ve experienced a litany of scandals in recent decades that have led to the current level of cynicism and distrust in politicians. 

It’s likely that these scandals have turned some of us off to politics as we’ve continued to struggle while the rich and powerful seem to become richer and more powerful, but it isn’t accurate to paint every politician, either new or seasoned, with the same brush. Furthermore, anyone who snubs their nose at their right to vote is doing a grave disservice to democracy in this country. 

We should never take our right to vote for granted. Our forefathers and foremothers fought for and died for our right to vote and to now turn your back on your right to vote is an affront to everything they sacrificed. Seriously, as a Canadian, you should be proud and honoured to cast your vote in every election at every level, be it municipal, provincial or federal. 

As Canadians, we should be asking ourselves, where did we go wrong? What is so bad that it causes so many people not to vote in an election? Somewhere in the course of this country’s history, our democracy went off the tracks, but we must find a way to put it back on the rails for if we fail to do so, our democracy will be in jeopardy. 

There are nations around the world where the people never have a say on who governs them. There are places in the world where citizens are shot, hanged or tortured for even suggesting that they should have a say in who runs the country. 

And there are nations in the world where elections are outlawed and where proponents of democracy are thrown into prison where they spend years and are often never heard from again. People in these countries can only dream of what we have here and what we take for granted, so never snub your nose at democracy. 

No matter which party you support or candidate you get behind, you should think of your ballot as your way of passing judgement on the previous government and consider it your opportunity to help decide who will run things for the next four to five years. 

So you don’t like the current system. I get that. But nothing will ever change if you don’t vote. On the other hand, if you like the current system, you could jeopardize the status quo by refusing to vote. There is a lot at stake here. 

Voting is serious business and, yes, in a democracy such as ours here in Canada, no one is going to force you to vote. Even though mandatory voting has been suggested in the past, it hasn’t happened yet because — get this — we live in a democracy. It’s your choice to vote or not, but voting is a right that you should always honour, because when you don’t vote you allow hypocrisy to reign supreme. 

I understand that people are cynical and I appreciate why they think that they’ve been shafted by governments in the past, but the simple truth remains that if you don’t cast your vote then you allow someone else to make that important choice for you and in the end you’re stuck with whatever government other people choose. 

It’s true that you may not get the government you want. It’s also true that your candidate of choice may not win, but by voting you’ve at least expressed your opinion. Voting is your way of standing up and saying you want change or you no longer want the status quo, but by not voting you let someone else make that decision for you. 

Furthermore, by not voting, you’re basically saying, “Okay, I don’t like what you’re doing to me, but give me more of the same.” At least by voting you’re standing up for your right to demand change or to keep the status quo, whichever option you support. The power is ultimately in your hands. 

Look at it this way — would you let someone else pick out what car you’ll buy? Would you let someone else decide where you’re going to live? Would you let someone else decide how you are going to invest your money or where you’re going to spend your vacation? Would you let someone decide where you’ll spend your retirement years without at least having your input on the decision? 

My guess is that you’ll answer no to all of these questions and if so, then why would you let someone else decide for you who will run the country for the next four to five years? Why would you do that without at least having your say? Because that’s exactly what you’re doing when you don’t vote. 

There’s a lot riding on each and every election and this is especially true at the federal level where decisions are made that affect the country’s overall financial status on the world stage. 

The federal government makes decisions regarding our nation’s security and determines whether or not we go to war, or which international causes we will or will not support. The federal government decides on issues that affect our laws, our economy and the environment. The federal government manages our national parks and institutions. And most importantly, the federal government protects our constitution and charter of rights. 

These are issues that are not to be taken lightly and you, as a Canadian, should feel as though you want your voice to be heard on these and many other important issues. This is how democracy works but it doesn’t work if you don’t vote.  

When Canadians go to the polls on October 21, we will elect a government and a leader to represent the values and vision of our country. Voting is the truest form of democracy that we have. By putting pencil to paper you will join people across Canada to vote for the candidate and the political party you think will best lead our country. 

You owe it to yourself and to future generations to vote. You also owe it to the memory of those who fought on your behalf to ensure you have the right to vote. Your right to vote should never be taken for granted or at least that’s the view from here.  

Vernon Oickle writes The View From Here column, which appears weekly in the South Shore Breaker. He can be reached at vernon.l.oickle@Eastlink.ca. 

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