Apathy killed the electoral process

By Katy Anderson

A wise man once said, “Get up, stand up; stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up; don’t give up the fight.”

In the 2004 election only 60.5 per cent of Canadians voted. After the startling 2000 election when only 25 per cent of eligible 18-24 year olds voted, a report was commissioned by the Canadian government.

The results showed the decline of electoral participation in Canada over the past 15 years was largely due to an unprecedented drop in turnout among the youngest age groups. Even with an increased awareness of the need to get more youth involved, just over 35 percent of youth voted in 2004.

“When you can’t see the impact, it becomes rational not to vote,” said University of Calgary political science professor Dr. Anthony Sayers. “People used to vote because they saw it as a chance to change the world around them. Now, with the move to pragmatic parties, all are becoming variations of one theme. The left is worried about the market and the right is interested in social welfare.”

Sayers argued the low turnout rates were not primarily caused by apathetic youth. Not only do youth not have as much invested in the system, but many attend university and are staying at home longer, growing up later.

“If voting decided policy, if it actually manifested a difference in youths’ lives, youth would vote,” said Sayers.

Calgary West NDP candidate and U of C student Teale Phelps Bondaroff said voting is just one aspect of political engagement. Running for office, writing letters, calling and even visiting your MP are other effective ways to get your voice heard.

“Canada’s system is based on representation, so if you want your MPs to represent you, you must give them your views and hold them accountable,” said Bondaroff.

Bondaroff’s campaign team boasts the youngest age in Canada with the average volunteer just 17.

“Youth voter apathy is a catch-22, said Calgary West Green Party candidate and U of C student Danielle Roberts. “Youth don’t vote because issues don’t concern them, but issues aren’t brought up because youth don’t vote.”

Many think the problem lies in Canada’s current electoral system. Instead of votes being translated directly into seats, it is split into constituencies where the winning party gets the seat and the rest of the votes are discarded.

“Although our system does promote regional representation,” said Roberts. “Lost votes can lead people to feel that their voice is being ignored.”

Although Bondaroff and Roberts both want your vote, they agreed that just getting out to the polls is the most important thing.

“With voter turnout decreasing in most western democracies, this is not just a Canadian phenomenon,” said political science professor Dr. Doreen Barrie. “Britain’s turnout is about the same as us, and the U.S. is even lower.”

Barrie said although changing our system would probably help, the same system produced high voter turnout in the past. She points to other factors like youth not feeling they have a stake in the political process and a decline in viewing voting as a civic duty.

“Sometimes people are just happy with the status quo and don’t feel the need to take action,” said Barrie. “Silence means consent.”

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