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)