Yesterday Ontario had its 40th election since 1867 (when Canada became a nation rather than a simple collection of colonial provinces). It was one of the few I’ve been able to vote in since my return to Canada. It was interesting to see the buildup, and the event itself, and now the aftermath. Many of the comments today have been about how our Premier, Dalton McGuinty, has won an “unprecedented” third term as the political leader of the province. And this is true: a month ago it had seemed that the Conservatives were poised to sweep the election (CP24). Even the day before, polls indicated that there was a stronger Conservative vote. (The Star, October 5) I watched last night as the election results came in, and as one-by-one the candidates were declared the winners. Yet in all this flurry it seemed to me that we have missed one of the biggest points: voter turnout was embarrassingly low.
Yes, I was pleased that the city of Toronto repelled a promised Conservative incursion: many of us have apparently learned from our experience with our mayor Rob Ford (conservative in the little “c” variety, officially, but “good friends” with the big “C” Conservative leadership). None of the city went to the Conservative side, in spite of it being the richest real estate in the province (the rich still only get one vote… in spite of how many homes they might own).
Yes, we’re in a “minority” government situation: of the 107 seats available, the Liberals only took 53… so the other 54 as split between the other two parties. So this is about as barely a minority as we can get; but if the other parties decided to do so, they could vote together and defeat the government. So it is still a minority government; what the Toronto Sun (our version of Fox news up here in Canada) calls “Liberal Hell” (see right). Often minority governments are known for getting little done, and I hope that is not the case this time. In my mind they can also be known for legislation that is less partisan and more unified. That will depend upon the leaders.
But what we have glossed over in all this is one thing that I find dispiriting: after a record low in turnout previously, this election prompted even fewer people to cast their vote. I voted: I was there at 9am to cast my ballot, and I caught the announcements in the school that served as my voting location. But a lot of people had better things to do.
Original estimates were around 49%, but I’ve heard calculations that as low as 48% of the electorate participated in this expression of democracy (Globe and Mail, Oct 7). It’s impossible to tell the reason; unfortunately, in Canada, it’s illegal to spoil your ballot, so there’s no way to tell the difference between someone who chose not to vote because of the lack of choice, and someone who was just too lazy. (I would guess that they two groups merge in to each other.) Spoiled ballots are not counted, so they are not reported, and this form of civil disobedience evaporates into thin air. But both are a problem, and the solution to both would seem to be related. We need to have real choice in our elections, and real integrity in our politicians. Most of us see a difference in the parties, but we don’t see a real difference in their expressions once they get in power. We need to have politicians who stand up for what they believe, and who are honest in those beliefs. Right now, there are only a few who offer either.