Voter turnout should be as much of a concern as vote splitting in federal election

What if you have a party and nobody shows up?

Canadian election, federal election, election 2015, Harper
Photo of Prime Minister Harper voting in 2011 federal election, from CBC

As the federal election approaches there will no doubt be many discussions about strategic voting and vote splitting. In some ridings vote splitting does happen and it can result in more than half of voters supporting progressive candidates and parties but a conservative winning the seat.

At the national scale the concern is that the Liberals and NDP will split the "progressive" vote and open the door for yet another majority for the Harper Government (shudders), so fears about vote splitting have been used by the Liberal Party to dissuade voters from supporting the NDP and likewise by the NDP to dissuade voters from supporting Green candidates.

As a Green Party nominee I find myself having the inevitable conversation about this subject with my NDP, Liberal and Conservative friends. However, as Elizabeth May articulated so well in a recent conversation I had with her, the truth is that the vote splitting argument, for all of its strategic merits, is perhaps distracting us from a larger crisis in Canadian democracy.

In the last few elections only 60 per cent of eligible voters exercised their democratic right, in fact two of the lowest voter turnouts in the history of our country have happened in the past two federal elections, and the overall trend has seen turnout decrease steadily since the 1950s.

This has to change. We need a new political culture in Ottawa if Canadian democracy is to be revived.

In some ridings the vote splitting argument is valid. In others, not so much.

The "anyone but Harper" argument is certainly valid, but there are some ridings that are so progressive that they are simply out of reach for the Conservatives and/or the increasingly right leaning Liberal Party. I feel Vancouver East, where I hope to be the Green Party's candidate, is one of these progressive ridings. Yet voter turnout in Vancouver East has remained well below the national average for decades. It pains me to think that half the people in my community don't think their vote matters. The Green Party wants those voters to get excited at the prospect of change in Vancouver East and in Ottawa, and embrace this upcoming election as an opportunity to re-engage.

More than just voting for the lesser of two evils

At the end of the day, I believe people want to vote for someone they are excited about, someone they can relate to, someone who they feel deserves to lead because they listen, they engage and respect their constituents. Someone who is genuinely trustworthy and has their constituents’ future in mind, not just the next quarter's numbers on Bay Street or the party’s numbers in an EKOS poll. Libby Davies has represented Vancouver East for nearly twenty years, with compassion, clarity and consistency, but as she retires the communities of East Van have a new opportunity to assess what they want from a Member of Parliament and who is best suited to bring their concerns, ideas and aspirations to Ottawa.

I believe that people want to do more than simply vote for the lesser of two evils, and that democracy shouldn't be about sacrificing your own values and hopes so that a party that isn't as bad as the Conservatives might have a chance at forming government. We deserve a better system that's reflective of Canadian values and aspirations.

Yet meanwhile, political discourse in Ottawa has been reduced to absurd displays of dodging accountability and hyper-partisan rancor in question period, while MPs who we have trusted to represent us and our communities are whipped to vote and clap like barking seals for whatever bill, personal attack or hilarious zinger their leader lets loose in Centre Block. If this is the culture of Canadian federal politics it's understandable why nearly half of us say 'screw it, I'm not standing in line for this' at every election. This political culture denigrates the sincerity, intelligence and commitment of MP's whom I've met, and the intention they bring to their jobs.

But here's the catch, if we don't take an active role as citizens to support nominees and candidates whom we feel would make good representatives of our communities then we are 'doomed to be ruled by a**holes', as a dear colleague of mine at SFU eloquently put it.

After years of a Harper Majority Government I believe Canadians want a different kind of Parliament, one that works together on their behalf, not one that sees one party and one Prime Minister rule with an iron fist as opposition parties scuffle over the prospect of being the potential successor to the throne. The more people I discuss the upcoming election with the more it seems other Canadians want their MPs to work for their riding and country first and foremost, not for the party whip or brand. The political landscape is shifting, so let's make this a reality. Let's get the vote out. Let's make it matter again for those thousands who have been left wanting something different, something more. We deserve better than to see a 'majority' government handed unassailable power because it won 40% of 60% of the country’s approval.

Once again our chance is coming.

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