We are now officially launched into the Year of Elections. Provincially, this riding now has a full slate of candidates nominated by their respective parties and election signs have already started to sprout all over the place. Details on these brave souls and the all candidates meeting being held on May 31 will be found elsewhere in this issue, and we will continue to update you on the list of municipal candidates as they sign up over the next few months.
The sad and shocking death of Gord Brown underlines the commitment being made by these men and women, who seek our vote. But Gord said something that I think needs to be kept in the forefront of our thinking as we review the candidates between now and the end of October. “You know, there’s people who want to be in politics because they want to be somebody. And there’s people who want to get into politics because they want to do something.”
Our job, as citizens, is to try and discover which is which, among those who seek our endorsement: who wants to do something, and who wants to be somebody? It is far too easy to underestimate the importance of the franchise – the right to cast a ballot and help choose those who represent us as a people and a community. In this country, and in this very region, there was a time, and not so long ago, when most of us would not have been allowed to vote in this way. It was a privilege reserved for those who were considered to have a stake in the country, the rich and powerful, the property owners with enough acreage or town lands to be worth entrusting with such a valuable power.
Even when their “inferiors” were granted a vote, there was no secret ballot: they had to stand up in front of their employers, their landlords, their neighbours and “betters”, and declare out loud who they were voting for. This public declaration took place at a meeting that too often involved violence and widespread intimidation, so that the choice of representative was not really theirs at all.
Much struggle and sacrifice by our forefathers and mothers was required before we reached the freedom to vote our conscience that we enjoy now. It is remarkable to remember that, on May 24 this year, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Canadian women getting the right to vote in federal elections. Women were not considered “persons” under the British North America Act until 1929. Women in Quebec could not vote in provincial elections until 1940! Indigenous Canadians didn’t get the right to vote until the 1950’s!
This is not something we should ever take for granted. Nor should we think that one vote doesn’t matter: it does, because it is yours, and no-one can choose for you. It is not so much that your choice of candidate is elected, it is that you made your choice known, and had a say in who governs in your name. If you don’t like the choice, you can vote again in a few years time. Think about this: the majority of people in the world today have no such power or right as you do. That is worth something.
It is equally important that we choose wisely, and in an informed way. Blind adherence to party is often a cop-out. General party policies are important considerations, of course; but we want representatives at all levels who will, as Gord said, actually do something, not just warm a seat and bask in the glory of their position. Will they speak out on behalf of those who elected them? Do they have the vision and imagination to initiate and follow through on election promises? Elections are the only time when politicians have to answer to us for what they’ve done, if incumbents, or what they promise to do, if elected. Face them with past promises, or practical questions about their plans.
Nor should we simply vote for whoever says things to please us at the time. It’s easy for candidates to say all the right things in order to gain our vote. There’s a warning about a time when, “to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear”. That famous quote from the questionable democrat, Winston Churchill, holds true for us today: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
This will be an interesting year of elections. The make-up of our population is changing rapidly, and older traditions and patterns of voting are changing. There is a possibility that this campaign could throw up some fascinating debates and ideas. Be sure to come out to the all candidates meeting on May 31 and play your part, if only by listening carefully to what’s being said. To cast an informed vote, we need to be informed. That is our privilege and duty. Once past the provincial contest, we have a whole other period of electioneering for the municipal vote on October 22. Now, that should be really interesting.