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The right and duty to choose — wisely

April, 2011

Cynics might say, and sometimes do, that if voting could change the system, it would be illegal.

As we look at the continuing popular uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, though ill-defined in terms of goals, the unifying factor is opposition to autocracy and its kissing cousin, kleptocracy. If they had a one-person, one-vote system with a constitution, a state of laws with statutes for elections, the rascals would have been swept away long ago.

This brings us to the federal election to be held May 2. It is incredible that the media are focusing on this being the fourth election in seven years. If only the hundreds of millions of oppressed from China to Cuba, across the Arab world, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa, had our electoral system, their hopes and dreams could be reality.

As Winston Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Our readers need no reminder of the responsibility our system imposes on voters. While voter participation in federal elections continues to drop, seniors remain the demographic with the highest turnout. About 90 per cent of Canadians over 65 cast ballots in federal elections, so they are considered worth targeting. And each vote means big bucks for the major parties.

Under the law, a registered party that gets at least two per cent of all valid votes at a general election, or at least five per cent of the valid votes in the electoral district in which it ran a candidate, is eligible for a per-voter allowance. In the 2008 election, that amounted to a bit more than $2 per voter.

In 2009, that wielded $10.4 million to the Conservatives, $7.2 million to the Liberals, $5 million to the New Democrats, $2.7 million to the Bloc Québécois and $1.9 million to the Greens.

Then there is the issue of strategic voting: casting a ballot for Candidate A to block Candidate B. Given the history of minority governments, Canadians increasingly are voting for the party and/or candidate they feel deserves support. There are many who argue, with history as proof, that the compromises resulting from minority rule are often positive and progressive, especially when the NDP holds the balance of power.

This is the first general election where Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff can rise above the low public-opinion polls and show that a man of his intelligence and intellectual integrity is the kind of politician who can lead this country to where a good number of Canadians want it to go. If he fails, many are predicting yet another Conservative minority government, in spite of it being found in contempt of Parliament for failing to disclose the full financial details of its crime legislation, corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets.

Sitting on the sidelines can affect the results. Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler, facing a challenge from former Montreal city councillor Saulie Zajdel, who is running for the Conservatives, has expressed concern that his campaign could suffer if too many people take it for granted that he’ll continue to be re-elected by substantial majorities.

It’s our duty to follow the campaign and weigh the promises, watch the TV debates and see how the leaders perform, then cast ballots after serious reflection.

More than ever, each vote counts, even in what are considered strongholds for one or another party.



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