Elections are coming up soon in Ontario. Everyone gets a chance to do a re-think on their mayors, councillors, aldermen, reeves, school trustees, etc. You are probably already seeing political signs going up. I’m not going to use this space to promote a particular candidate or political view. Instead, I’m going to write about the responsibilities and duties of a citizen in our kind of political system.
As it turns out, you only have one duty – if you are an enfranchised adult (i.e. you are legally allowed to vote) you have an ethical and moral responsibility to do so… a duty, if you will. Abrogating that responsibility hurts everyone.
More interesting, in my books is how abrogating the duty for municipal elections specifically hurts people in direct ways. Consider:
Federal elections have the greatest voter turn out. About 2/3 of eligible voters report to a polling station and vote using whatever decision-making process they find appropriate. This is interesting to me because, on a day-to-day basis, the federal government actually doesn’t affect individuals all that much. Oh it certainly does affect each of us as it sets income tax rates (which usually propagate down to the provincial level), but most of the rest of what it does really doesn’t touch the individual all that much, unlike, say…
Provincial governments. Elections for provincial governments have about 2/3 the turnout of a federal election, or well under half of eligible voters. This despite the fact that provincial governments directly affect most everything a person does, from the very organization of their municipal area, to speed limits, to taxes, to health care, to education. Provincial government bears the lion’s share of the big-ticket responsibilities that poke at everyone each day, but apparently, most people can’t be arsed to vote. Still, that’s not as interesting as…
Municipal governments. These guys have their fingers in everything you do every day. They deal with the streets, local police, fire, ambulance, where weed stores can be located, where schools are located, building permits, by-laws and cranky neighbours, the operation of school boards. Municipal government is in your face absolutely every day. And people bitch, whine, and moan about the (lack of) competence they perceive in the mandarins that make up municipal government. Armed with that strong opinion, knowledge, and rage, what do they do?
That’s right, municipal elections have an obscenely low turn out. The overwhelming majority of people can’t be arsed to find out about their candidates, let alone make an informed choice. People just don’t vote. This is why so many city councillors/aldermen/reeves/whatever have butts that have evolved into the shape of their chair. A city elected representative isn’t supposed to be a job for life, but voter apathy makes it that.
Consequently, I feel quite strongly that if you can’t be bothered to vote, you have no licence to complain about the government. You are literally part of the bad government problem, not part of the solution. You know what the worst-case scenario for not voting is? Just look to the nation to the south. They ended up in their current shit-show not because an awesome Republican candidate swept the election, but because Democratic voters couldn’t be bothered to exercise their civic duty and vote. Yes, I would agree that the choice was between getting kicked in the nads with a hiking boot, or being kicked in the nads with a work boot, but it doesn’t change the fact that voter laziness handed that election to an incompetent candidate.
So take some time and learn about your local candidates. Learn what they stand for. Then when that day comes, get out and vote. And don’t be afraid to shake up your local government by tossing out some of the old in favour of some new blood.