I woke up this morning early enough to go and fulfill my civic right and duty to vote. The polling stations were pretty quiet at 8:30 am, and even though I was excited to have cast my ballot, I somehow felt how unexciting and uneventful our elections are. Perhaps, unexciting or uneventful isn’t the word, but rather how easy it is to go in and vote. There are no threats to life, no one is rigging your election, no one is stopping you from entering the polling station, no one stops me because I am a woman, I mean, absolutely NO hurdles in the way of me voting. I couldn’t help but be thankful for the freedom and ease by which I am able to go and vote, whereas, in many parts of the world, people would die to get this right. So, why is it that we have such low voter turn outs? It is as if the only way we will get out and vote is when things are absolutely at their worst.
Many people will make all sorts of excuses for not voting, one of which is the lack of time. Legally, in Canada you have the right to take time off to go and vote. Employers may frown upon it, but there is nothing they can do to stop you from doing it. Other parts of the world don’t even get that option. Some people will complain and say that not voting is a choice just as voting is, because I do not feel that any party or candidate well-represents my views. This is a valid and strong argument, but how does one get parties and candidates to be representatives of issues that matter to you? The way our system is set-up, not voting just means, “I can’t be bothered or I don’t really care about the democratic process at all”. A better way to voice your dissatisfaction at the inadequacy of the candidates is by going to the polling stations and spoiling your ballots. Imagine, a year that 100,000 people decide to spoil their ballots, you think the parties won’t take notice? They sure will!
Often times people say what is the point of voting, things don’t change. They will continue to complain and crib throughout the four years, however, they actually did not bother to get up on election day to go vote. How can you complain about a system you did not partake in? The reason things don’t change is because we, the public didn’t send a clear enough message demanding for things to change. That is what voting and protests are about. Protesting can maybe get you notice, but voting and then electing representatives gets them to pass legislation towards that end goal that matters to you.
People will also say, I don’t vote because I don’t know much about politics or that I am not political. Here is what I have to say to those people. If you are a person, a woman, a child, a man, a business owner, a parent, someone with a disability, a worker, someone who has been sick at least once in their lives, went to school, or a post-secondary student, or you pay taxes, a person of colour etc, you already are political. All the systems we have around us are a result of legislation that was passed in the parliament. The Parliament is where your elected officials sit and debate on the issues that matter to you. Did you know that it wasn’t until the early 60’s that medicare was introduced as a system in Canada? Guess who were the people behind the establishment of this system? It was 3 politicians namely Tommy Douglas, John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson. That is just one glaring example of why politics matters and affects you.
Remember 2002 when the then Liberal Government lifted the tuition freeze on post-secondary education? I remember it well, that was my second year in University. Every year after that I saw a 30% increase in my tuition fees for the year. The Province also lost grant funding, meaning as a student the need for loans drastically increased. Remember the HST and how that was introduced? We now pay HST on everything including groceries and basic necessity items.
There are different levels of government that deal with different types of legislation that affects all aspects of our lives. The simple truth is, you cannot escape politics, at least not in a democratic state. If we want better roads, better education, GMO food labeling, better opportunities, a better economy, a responsible nation that takes care of its environment, or if we want to be better protected at our workplace, being paid fair wages, or simply being able to walk with peace and the knowledge that we will be safe, we are already political. If we have an opinion on politics, even if it is that politicians suck, guess what, we are being political!
There are people who have given up their lives for the freedoms that you and I enjoy today. The very least we can do to honour their sacrifices is show up on Election day and vote! Pakistan just had its federal elections on May 11th, 2013. This election happened despite serious life threats to the public, to the candidates and to party-workers, yet there was a 65-70% voter turn out. Women were stopped from voting in the election, people were refused entering polling stations, their ballots were destroyed, mass rigging had taken place, violence had erupted, at least 20 people died on election day, but, that did not stop the people of Pakistan from coming out and voting. Despite the fact that the system itself was broken, people came out with the hopes to make change and have their voices heard. Even now, there are mass protests going against the Election commission, which failed to have a “fair and free” election.
I urge everyone to vote, but more specifically the Pakistani-Canadians of British Columbia to go out and cast your ballot, whether it be to choose a candidate/party of your choice or whether it be to go spoil your ballot. We all living abroad were so eager to vote in the Pakistan election because we wanted to see our beloved Pakistan prosper but let us not forget our adopted homeland. We have an equally strong responsibility to our beloved country of Canada to go and vote. If we want change, we must first change ourselves. Polls are open until 8 pm today, go out and make it count. Your voice matters, your issues matter, and who you choose matters. Voting gives you the right to go and question your elected representatives when they fail on their promises, but if you fail to vote, do you really think you have any right to complain or demand accountability? The system works because these politicians have been elected by you and are therefore accountable and answerable to you.
We are very blessed and lucky to be living in a country like Canada, where human life matters, where my voice matters, where I can walk into a polling station without fear of being shot because I decided to vote. Utilize the opportunity lest we lose the privilege like many other parts of the world, where people would willingly lose their lives just so their voices may be heard.
I have voted, have you?