What’s in Your Wallet?

This is a little more local than I usually post but it is my column for the newspaper this week. In Canada we do not have to register as a Conservative or Liberal or NDP or a member of the Green Party–we get to vote for whomever we please. In municipal politics in my town we vote for five councillors, a mayor and deputy mayor. I have been a municipal reporter on and off for 30 plus years. Hope this does not bore you–but I think that there are a few good points in here that if followed would make any election or the voter better.

 “It doesn’t matter how you vote, just make sure you vote.” – Oldest bromide in Broadcasting

               I cherish my right to vote. Yes, you heard me right—I cherish it. And I do my homework before I vote—I consider my options, who best answers my concerns, and who I believe in. As I have mentioned before, I am a died-in-the-wool non-partisan voter, and I believe that I have voted for all the major parties at one time or another. Though I do admit to favouring one above the others, I consider the times, the promises, and the person or people making the promises before I cast my vote.

            An opinion piece I found truly enlightening appeared in the local daily this week, written by an economics prof at McGill University by the name of William Watson. Titled: “It really is best to let sleeping voters lie”, he does not agree with the above captured bromide that “It doesn’t matter how you vote, just make sure you vote”. Watson has put some thought into his view, saying “If…. people feel they really haven’t been paying attention and aren’t familiar enough with the issues or the candidates to make a considered judgment, well, I’d be inclined to thank them for staying out of the decision-making they don’t feel themselves qualified to participate in.”

            We will be hosting two elections this year in Ontario—a provincial, possibly in the spring and our municipal election in the fall. I think of the two elections as different beasts. In municipal politics, you are generally going to know at least some of the candidates—they will be your uncle, or cousin, grandma or good friend (the combinations of course are endless) and you will have some idea of how they stand on issues. But you will not know all the people who are going to run—and these are the people who are going to be making some decisions that will be pretty important to you. We need to find out more about these people and consider whether we want them in office – have they made themselves aware of municipal policies; do they have a good head on their shoulders; or are they just trying to find something that will bide their time?

            To be fair, most people who run for municipal office care about where they live—but they need to have a balanced view of the whole municipality. Over the years I have sat in hundreds of council meetings, in Leamington, Gosfield South, and Kingsville (for the last 15 years) and I think I am a pretty good judge of what makes a good councillor, deputy-mayor, and mayor. First of all, I am very impressed with people who are thinking about becoming candidates when they attend the council meetings long before they decide to run. And then I am impressed by those who throw their hat in the proverbial ring and start to attend the meetings to find out the mechanics of the job they are vying for. I like it when people educate themselves taking nothing for granted. Because I have been attending council meetings since 1981 (first as a stringer for CHYR Radio, then on and off at the Reporter) I know that these meetings can be long, some of the issues none too tantalizing, and the seats uncomfortable after about two hours. But the meetings can also be lively; you can see where your representatives stand on issues when they comment; and you can learn more about the place you have set down roots.

            Provincial politics are a whole different game. The stakes are a bit higher. The degree of harm the government can do reaches millions, not thousands—so we should give serious thought about who we vote for.  I am of the same ilk as Professor Watson and believe as he does that: “If, as a rule, people don’t pay any attention to politics, they should think twice about whether they want to cast an uninformed vote. And we should think twice about encouraging them.” I will give him the last word on this and a thumbs up. Voting without being somewhat informed is like having seatbelts in your car and not using them.

Next week: some lighter fare—what’s in your refrigerator (not your wallet—that is much too personal)

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Published in: on February 25, 2014 at 11:56 pm  Comments (13)  

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I tend to agree that we might be better off if uninformed voters simply stayed home on election day but I also feel that anyone who doesn’t vote doesn’t have the right to complain about their government.

  2. The last 3 maybe 4? federal elections and one provincial one my husband and I volunteered for the party we were voting for… and boy that really involves one in the issues and the process of elections and voting… real insight! Diane

  3. Getting involved in the grass roots of a campaign for a candidate you believe in, is truly an education….highly recommend it.

  4. Your thoughts apply wherever in the world we vote of course – stimulating and interesting, thank you

  5. A vote is far too important to waste. I agree with Watson, but I’m more saddened that perpetually uninformed voters even exist. I’m in BC, and even on the municipal scale there’s rarely a shortage of information available for anyone who wants to take a moment to educate themselves about candidates, issues, and platform policies. All people have to do is take some time to read.

  6. I think you ae quite right. Part of the ethos should be that if a person does not inform themselves then they ethically accept the decisions of the informed. Anything less is as irresponsible as choosing the prettiest applicant for the post of brain surgeon.

  7. Not too personal at all!!! Food for thought regardless of where one lives (or rather – presuming one lives in a pace where elections are held)

  8. I tend to avoid voting. I have a problem trusting people when it comes to politics. They might seem all sorts of nice at first, then they start showing their true colours. Even today, my colleague had to go meet a mayor to discuss something, and she was feeling quite optimistic since she knows him to be nice, but in person… well, she was shocked. He blatantly requested a bribe. That was really… educational for her, you might say.

  9. It’s compulsory to vote in Australia – I really like it that way because no one has the right to complain if they’ve done their homework and elected someone they think is right at the time (mind you, politicians can be chameleons at election time) :)

    • they are good actors some of them–aren’t they–not to our benefit though

  10. “uninformed” … I think …. has risen to a horribly scary level. Last week I saw a comedian take to the street to ask people what they thought about the recent passing of Franklin Roosevelt …… and people answered seriously, trying to act as if they knew what they were talking about. It’s supposed to be funny, but underneath it all, it is #@^&%* scary.

  11. Good points! I agree, uninformed voters shouldn’t participate. I am always amazed at the “man on the street” interviews done around national election times when people don’t know names or offices of some of the highest elected officials in the land…or they know nothing about the current issues that are driving the election. I try to be educated, but I’m not a non-stop political junkie. However, you’d have to be living under a rock to be ignorant of some of the basics. It’s funny on one level, but not when you realize that these people actually take their ignorance to the voting booth and have an impact on the rest of us! Thanks for the thoughtful piece! ~ Sheila

    • everything you say is so true–when people do not even know the basics and then vote–well sometimes we deserve the outcome we get


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