Canadian voters tend to be apathetic. A simple Wikipedia search on Canadian voter turnout – which probably requires too much energy for the average voter – reveals numbers hovering around an uninspired 60% since 2000. When we go to the provincial level, things get worse. Since 2001, British Columbia’s voter turnout has dropped as low as 51%, with an average of around 55%–I was gonna go and vote, but then I got high.
In Squamish, BC, the numbers were even lower at the municipal level with only 34.2% voter turnout in 2011 (or 39.2% depending on who you ask). Yet, things are about to change. One visionary, who wants to vanquish Squamish voter apathy, is promising to exchange priceless entertainment for voter turnout in next month’s election. In his Rock the Vote video, Squamish City Council candidate and professional stuntman Peter Kent, the man with a real plan, has promised to light himself on fire on downtown’s main street if Squamish increases its voter turnout from last election.
Yes, you read that right. Mr. Kent values citizen engagement in the democratic process so much that he will light himself on fire for it. Of course he is no Mohamed Bouazizi, but his goal is still admirable. Kent sees himself as a bridge between the people of his community and the local government. He hopes for inter-group collaboration that is open, honest, and dignified. He is passionate about community-driven improvements in education, essential services, environmental sustainability, job creation, tourism, and business in Squamish. Kent’s immense respect for locals’ opinions is undoubtedly what led him to promise a big incentive for their involvement. That being said, it might be worth asking ourselves: How does his action plan compare to other municipal voter-engagement strategies?
In Toronto, non-government organizations launched two websites–positionprimer.ca and pollenize.org–in an attempt to simplify the municipal voting process by helping people identify which candidates represent them best. While this is definitely helpful if the voting process overwhelms you, it doesn’t give you the extra incentive to get out there on voting day quite like Mr. Kent’s plan does.
Peter Kent: 1, Toronto: 0.
In Vancouver, the My Vote Matters organization is trying to promote the voting process in an effort to bring municipal voter turnout to over 50%. They’re printing lawn signs, getting the word out on the voting process through their website, and connecting people to information regarding all-candidate debate meetings. The non-profit society’s founder pointed to the need of something like this because “the thing is, democracy is not sexy, democracy is not cool”. Hold on. Democracy isn’t sexy and cool? Peter Kent’s badass plan definitely offers a counterpoint to that!
Peter Kent: 1, Vancouver: 0.
These and other (most) municipal voter engagement plans often sum up to one word in the mind of unengaged voters: booooring. Mr. Kent’s plan offers true entertainment value for each voter’s time and effort. It even builds up an added element of social pressure to non-voters – “you planning to vote today? No? C’mon man, it’s because of you democracy isn’t any fun”. Kent’s engagement plan has big potential, and one can only hope – for the sake of democracy and excitement – citizens of Squamish will exercise their voting rights November 15.
If Kent’s plan proves successful, Canadians shouldn’t be surprised to see other exciting political engagement plans popping up around the country. Maybe Gregor Robertson will make Happy Planet-esque smoothies in downtown Vancouver for 50% municipal turnout, or Justin Trudeau will smoke a blunt to produce some out-of-the-box remarks at Question Period for 70% federal turnout, or for 75% turnout Stephen Harper might promise a nation-wide concert tour with his band–oh wait, that probably wouldn’t be too effective.