If you didn’t vote–shut up!

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LAST Word: If you didn’t vote–shut up!

Lexpert, February 2006

by Marzena Czarnecka

I write this as the federal election campaign is just getting started; when you read this, we will already have a “new” government. But bear with me. I have but one question—did you vote? I did—or rather will—although I am of the generation that doesn’t do it. Really, given the circus that is unfolding before us, is any one surprised? I shan’t bore you with the reiteration of the contradictions, hypocrisies and flip-flops of our federal election campaign; you know them as well as I do. Chances are good, regardless of the age group you give to pollsters, you probably didn’t vote. Or if you did, you did it lackadaisacally, without passion, and without interest. Because what colour insignia the fools in Ottawa wear makes virtually no difference to your every day life.

You’re right, at least in part. Whether they are Liberal or Conservative–or, should an Ontario-style miracle ever occur federally, New Democrat–your Members of Parliament will have minimal impact on your work, your family life… or your retirement plans. The New Democrats will not nationalize the energy industry. The Conservatives, fear-mongering in Ontario aside, won’t rejoin church and state, criminalize premarital sex or reinstitute the death penalty (gay marriage, though—I’d worry, just a bit). The Liberals… won’t do much of anything. They might wreck havoc on health care, education and the economy, but so may the Conservatives. For the most part, most of the damage is reversible… and may well be fixed by a group of folks wearing the same insignia as the folks who muffed it up in the first place. (As for the Quebec/national sovereignity card–if the majority of Quebecers embrace sovereignity, they will do it regardless of what party is in power in Ottawa. So could we please stop making unity a federal election issue? Except in Quebec, of course, where it works and will always work.)

What I’m saying is that whether a government is Liberal, Conservative or other essentially doesn’t matter–but voting still does. What matters in this faulty-but-as-good-as-it-gets political system of ours is that the government believes itself to be accountable to the people. That’s you. Voters. So goddammit, even if we end up having another election before the year ends, go out and vote.Vote for the Transcedental Meditation Party, the Marijuana Party or the Marxist-Lennists. Vote for the Green Party (I do). Vote for the Conservatives or the New Democrats. If you must, and are able to do so with a clear conscience and a modicum of self-respect, vote for the Liberals. Just vote. Because a high voter turn-out is the only message we, the people, send to they, the government. When we turn out in droves to vote that tells them we care what they do. Face it: if they don’t think we care–why the hell should they be accountable?

A government that holds itself to be accountable to the electorate–and that knows the electorate will hold it accountable–will endeavour to do the right thing by the electorate… regardless of, say, the leader’s individual religious world view. By staying away from the polls, we have encouraged a culture of entitlement to fester in Ottawa and we have murdered accountability in our leaders. Do not read this as just an indictment of the Chretien and Martin Liberals–the Harper Conservatives have been just as guilty of this (wasn’t their last campaign essentially a campaign of entitlement: “Vote for us because it’s our turn”?). Democratic renewal does not come from leaders espousing reforming this policy or that regulation. It comes from the people getting off their butts and going to the polls. Yes, it really is that simple.

Forgive the humourless preachiness. I am an immigrant, brought to Canada by parents willing to do almost anything so that their children would have the ability to vote. So I vote. Even when it’s cold. Even when it looks like it won’t make a difference.

Because if you don’t vote, you might as well forfeit your right to live in a democratic country. And you most definitely forfeit your right to complain. So please. Vote.

Or shut up.

Marzena Czarnecka is Calgary-based freelance writer. She really does vote Green. And she has no real problem with anyone voting Liberal–so long as, upon exiting the polling station, they sign a waiver to the effect they shall not whine about what Ottawa does… or does not do.

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