Monday, July 11, 2011

You can't have responsible government without responsible voters

The topic of voter apathy popped back into the news in recent days. Statistics Canada is reporting 23% of all eligible voters did not vote because they were not interested. I find this frustrating.

There are lots of things I don't do because I am not interested. I don't see movies or read books that don't interest me. I don't visit or vacation in places for which I have little interest. You get the point.

However, there is a category of things that I choose to do to even if they don't necessarily interest me. I follow news stories that don't always interest me, but which are nevertheless important enough that I feel I should stay informed. I talk with people at events - as they do with me - even if the topic isn't interesting. This is about being polite.

Finally, there are things I have to do whether they interest me or not. We all have some of that at work, for example.

So where does or should voting fit in? There is no easy answer.

Some argue that the root of our apathy lies in the dysfunction of our politics; that the squabbling, partisanship and the focus on "in the bubble" issues have created a disconnect between the voter and the democratic process. People aren't connecting because (a) the issues are not theirs and (b) the theatre of our politics is off-putting.

Another argument is that the way we vote is out of touch with a 21st century communications world. Lines, booths and slips of paper don't cut it in a 140-character, high speed, "give it to me quick world." The youth voter, the argument goes, is disconnected from the process of voting.

My thoughts?

I agree that our politics is flawed and is too often showing a disconnect between what is important to Canadians and what is discussed in Ottawa. Scandal increasingly trumps substance, and it is something which all of the parties have allowed to happen (and in some cases preferred to happen). I also agree that we should look for ways to introduce more technology into the voting process.

However, I think too often we are looking for easy answers and opportunities to point fingers. I get frustrated when I hear someone did not vote because it takes too much time, or because the issues did not appeal to them. A decision not to vote is being made the fault of someone else.

For me, these arguments reveal a disappointing absence of a sense of responsibility; responsibility which should be inherent in a healthy democracy. To say "make it compelling for me", or "make it easier for me" suggests that participation in the democratic process of your country should be driven by the same motivations behind going to a movie or choosing what to watch on television.

The problem of voter apathy is a collective one. Our politics needs to be more responsive to the challenges and opportunities we face. Our process needs to embrace 21st century technology. And we, the voter, need to step outside of our current mindset and rediscover the concept of civic duty and responsibility.

The birth of responsible government in Canada was a significant milestone in our development as a nation. However, for responsible government to work you need responsible voters. Interested?


  1. This blog is always an interesting read!

    I see voter apathy and the tone of our current politics sort of like the 'chicken and egg' debate. Which came first? I am of the mind that the state of politics in Canada is the way it is partially because of apathy. The first step to changing how our politicians and political parties operate is to vote. Sitting on your butt and complaining will only ensure that things never change.


  2. It really bothers me voter apathy, it is our civic duty!It is so disrespectful to don't vote, and then more disrespectful to either complain about the state of the country or why you don't bother to vote.

    But it is a combination of everything that has created this voter apathy, I agree with Ken above. What can we do? more advertising in my opinion, to make government interactive, create more programs in school for love of country, to make it look cool, it can be done, I believe that!


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