77.4%, 74.2%, 75.3%, 76.7%, 67%, 58.8%, 61.1%. What do these numbers, which steadily decline, represent? They aren’t Jennifer Aniston’s approval ratings before and after marrying Brad Pitt; they aren’t the probabilities of a Videotron technician arriving within their designated 6 hour window, and they most certainly are not alcohol percentages in our Montreal home brewed Molson Export, so what exactly than, are they?
These declining percentages represent the voter turnout in Canadian federal elections over a number of years from 1900, all the way until 2011. We have entered a period in our political history where nearly half the country does not even care to vote for the individual or political party that leads their country. The real question that needs to be asked is not “is the new generation apathetic?”, but should instead ask “why they have become apathetic?” Provincially, that gets all the way down to 40%.
Canadian politicians this past calendar year seem to have made the headlines for all the wrong reasons: disgruntled Ontario mayors, Senatorial scandals, and of course, the problem of simply lacking the international poster boy induced excitement we see from the presidential system just south of the border. Yet, despite a lack of legitimately positive news coming out of the True North, for the first time in many years, Canadian politics are seeping into the American media. While Saturday Night Live’s rendition of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford may have been funny, there is an underlying grim message to be taken from it all: in order for Canadian politics to garner the type of spectator support that is commonplace in the US, it has to be in a sensationalized form, depicting Canadians as something that they simply are not. That, is the friendly way to put it. The Rob Fordian way might sound a little more like this: ‘for people to care about Canadian politics, its members need to be total fuckin’ nutjobs.”
J.J McCullough wrote an interesting article in late May about Canadian politicians and their love of being called honourable. “At one time, to call a politician ‘honourable’ was to remind him of his responsibility to the public, and obligation to adhere to a certain standard of moral decency while in office. In the modern era, alas, the political class has decided to pursue other priorities, and ‘The Hon.’ has transformed into little more than a vain, aristocratic tag of status – and an ironic reminder of how scant actual honour is possessed by politicians so eager to claim honourifics.”
McCullough’s point applies directly to the poor political actors in Canada making their government into a laughing stock. Gone are the days where all political figures aspired to do the best job possible for their constituents, in its place, we have ushered in an era where ridiculous actions and a lack of morals is a virtue worth reward. In this sense, it is as much a fault of the general population that government officials have been reduced to mere celebrities. This is perhaps the greatest paradox that Canadian politics and Canadian youth face today. The government is getting more and more exposure, yet voter turnout continues to decline.
Bob Hepburn at The Star successfully covered the great problem with declining voter turnouts. Simply, in a system that is based on the will of the majority, the establishment needs a large majority of people to have their voices heard so that the official will can be understood. If half of the population does not even vote, than how can we know that the will of the majority is being met? A national study sought to understand why voter turnout is so heavily declining among young people. What she noticed was that “young voters are disengaged because too often federal and provincial politicians focus on issues that never touch their lives.” According to this this study, young voters are not apathetic, they are just not properly being catered to by municipal, provincial, or federal representatives. This is no time to accept a defeatist mentality. This is the time to properly engage the youth, who will ultimately represent the majority of voters in the near future.
If something doesn’t change soon, the very foundation of Canadian Democracy could crumble. The first step in this process is to eliminate the sources of negative political action, i.e., getting rid of people whose utility has been exhausted. While there may be space for comedy on late night television, there simply is no space for slapstick humour on the political stage of a country as proud as our own. That is the choice people, either we give up on embracing the stupid, sensationalized versions of our government, or the integrity of Canadian democracy dies.
“Everyone is talking about Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor. His reality show has been canceled after one episode. That is the difference between the U.S. and Canada. In America, when somebody goes off the rails we RENEW their reality show.” –Conan O’Brien. Please Canada, let’s not let Conan down.
Want to continue keeping Canadians engaged in politics? Then consider donating to our crowdfunding campaign.