The “No” Vote: The Biggest Political Party in Canada?
Political Scientists say that in an era of unprecedented consumerism, military expansion, economic power and personal wealth, the foundations of Canadian democracy are cracking; that both politicians and academics have come to the conclusion in past years that with fewer people bothering to vote – or to participate at all – our democracy is in trouble. Voter turnout for the last 16 Canadian parliamentary elections has been about 70%. In 2008, voter turnout fell well below 60%, was only just over 61% in the last, and 41st general election in 2011. Voter turnout has been falling steadily in every election since 1979. The 1958 election that brought John Diefenbaker to power had the nation's highest-ever turnout, at 79.4 per cent.
Not to negate their concern but is their pessimism warranted? * For instance, the American election in November 2008 received the second largest youth vote turnout in US history at 55%. Youth voted 67% for Obama. Everyone on the Left predicted the largest voter turnout in years. It barely made 63%, much lower than the 2004 American Presidential election. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Four million stay-at-home Republicans who voted in 2004 did what the youth vote did for John Kerry in 2004: they didn’t show up. John McCain was too moderate and George Bush had been too much of a disappointment. They took a pass. In 2016, it was a controversial, cantankerous election which garnered a meager 53-4% turnout: (in 2000 54.2%; 2004 60.4%; 2008 62.3%; and 2012 57.5%). To use a famous quip, “Even if you decide not to decide you still have made a choice.”
Stephen Harper in November 2008 was probably glad about two things on election day: a carbon tax still sounded frightening at the end of the campaign, and more importantly, the voters weren’t angry enough at the government to come out in droves on a fine fall day and punish them. He was even happier when the Liberals, miscalculating voter mood for an premature election call, punished them for their commitment to force a non-confidence vote which caused another election only two years later.
Some maintain the low voter turn out was caused by an uninspired contest, others remarked that new user rules were to blame and some suggested a new generation of Canadian apathy was at fault.
In 1988, over 75% of the electorate turned out, sparked in part by the exceedingly controversial Free Trade issue. A subject that since confederacy has been a top voting contentious issue in Canada. In June of 1993, over 70 percent of the electorate came out to end the reign of Brain Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative party. Many Canadians believed that the PM had been caught with his hands in the airbus cookie jar, and with a $585 billion accumulated debt and a new GST tax, the public was motivated to vote all in one direction. Conservatives were motivated to stay home and the Liberals and others to get out and vote. The voting public reduced the PCs in one swift statement to two lone seats. The Progressive Conservatives never saw the blow coming and never recovered from it. They quickly devolved into a classic split on the right which developed into the Reform, Alliance and finally over a decade later, the present day Conservative Party. During this time without a united vote on the right, because of vote-splitting, and an assured liberal majority, voter turn out fell to the low of 60%. In 2006, it was 65 percent, in 2008 59, in 2011, 61 and when Harper was turved by a handsome young Trudeau in 2015, it jumped to 68.5.
It makes sense to me and it should to you, provided you are not a political scientist trying to deliver us from our own folly. Why voter apathy? Well, let’s call it that, but it really isn’t indifference. Not voting is like not going into work because nothing’s happening there. Would you do it if you knew your employer would not pay you or might even fire you? No. You’d show up and still do nothing. What if you were a student and knew that one of the political parties in the upcoming election was going to withdraw every form of subsidy to colleges and universities; that tuition would skyrocket? Would you be motivated to vote? Of course you would be. You can see it clearly. Consider then the inverse of it. Low voter turnout means that the cue in the complaint line is less. It’s a sign of democratic health. It means that a society has no unified ill which can unite many voters into one action like in 1993 when the Canadian voting public fired Brain Mulroney (via Kim Campbell), and destroyed even the vehicle who delivered such an impostor to the helm of our great country. Only two seats. Think about it.
* Books like Bowling Alone and The Affluent Society bemoan the decline of individual participation in our communities. They offer up a theory of social disconnection, the decline of generalized reciprocity through public works. But mom didn’t skip the PTA because of apathy. She was home schooling after classes, spending copious amounts of time in her child’s education. The baby-boomer couple tag-teamed, promoting one or both of their careers. What time was left? The wife didn't belong to Goody Good Association. She was out on some activity, perhaps golf or tennis, with her husband and her husband’s boss and spouse. They built their own little world. In the summer, the family was often at the cottage with the extended family. The kids – when not studying – were often watching TV, playing Game Boy and other non-social-events. The family unit was ready to pick up and move to the resource if the job required it. They had a big idea: economic independence, education, mobility and raising the children to be individually responsible for their own lives, not to depend on the state, other people or even parents. They wanted to travel boldly and discover the world which their parents had only journeyed to vicariously through the media. The reason why Political Scientists and Social Theorists preach this hollow cant is as simple as their communal mentality: they despise individualism, especially the self-styled entrepreneur type, even while denying any such bias. Social capital is the theory of collective obligation. Being human does not compel you to be part of the herd. You can build your own micro-society and it might be a sight better than the utopian societies of some university professor who would have you sacrifice your freedom for the welfare state. Notice the central crisis of our times is always against merit, strength and individualism. Observe the crisis is always occurring with the rapid growth of welfare government at all levels in many societies throughout the world but they fail to mention that fact. (More of this anon). Political Science cannot help us; it has in some real way, produced the crisis.
© 2017 - E. A. St. Amant