In the last federal election, nearly four in ten eligible voters stayed away from the polls. You’ve heard it all before—“Why waste my time? Voting won’t change anything.”
Not so. In 2011, Harper “won” a majority government—with the support of 24% of the electorate. You read right. Turnout of registered voters was 61.1%. Harper received only 39.2% support from those who cast a ballot.
Here’s another figure that should wake people up. In 2011, the Conservatives had a 14-seat majority. Also, in 14 of the most closely-fought ridings in Canada, the combined number of votes that gave the Conservatives their majority was 6,201. One of those races (Nipissing-Timiskaming) was decided by 14 votes. 27,887 registered voters didn’t vote. Think about that. All of that. Voting can’t change anything, eh? Guess again.
I have to admit that the current cynicism about voting gets to me, not just because we lost races to the Harper Conservatives that we could have won. I think about how hard it was to win the right to cast a ballot in the first place. Voting used to be a male-only privilege, for those men who owned property. Women fought hard to get the vote: activists were beaten, jailed and tortured. Aboriginal peoples did not win the right to vote until the 1960s.
We know that voting is not the only way of making our voices heard. Democracy between elections is every bit as important as democracy at the voting booth. But our vote—now, more than ever—can make a lasting difference.
I know that some claim, as they do in every election, that I and other union leaders are “telling members how to vote” and that’s just the wrong thing to do. But, honestly, that’s not what is happening. We give our opinions, we talk about the interests of the membership, and we stress the need to vote, and I think that’s the proper thing to do. The fact is, quality public services, collective bargaining and workplace rights are important to the members and to our union.
Given what we’ve all had to put up with from the Harper Conservatives over the last near-decade—cutbacks, anti-union legislation, contempt for the valuable work our members do—my own views about the current government are well-known. But views don’t elect governments: people do. Get out there to an advance poll, or to the polls on October 19, and exercise your rights. If you want change, now is your moment.