Monday, August 31, 2009

Post-Election Survey re Voter Turnout

... saw almost 90 percent of possible respondents declining to participate in the survey.

Of those who did respond,
some 35 percent of the non-voters ... said the main reason they did not vote was 'personal', including people who were busy, out of town or sick. Seven percent were pessimistic about their vote making a difference and 29 percent were "disengaged" with the process or politics in general.

The number of contactees refusing to participate in the survey should make people think twice about its conclusions regarding people's reasons for not voting.

Full survey results (PDF).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stop Blaming Young People

Aaron Wherry (Macleans) notes this article which is of the ilk, as he puts it, "Why don't the kids like the politics?"

It's refreshing to see someone like Wherry alluding to the unfairness of identifying young people as politically disengaged and blaming them for the erosion of our democracy.

Not voting doesn't translate into being apolitical. Not voting doesn't mean being uninvolved in one's community or not caring deeply about the issues affecting it, or one's country, or the globe.

Young people are not alone in turning their backs on the ballot box. They've a lot of company. All parties have moved themselves into the mushy middle or right (as the 'middle' also moves right), thus leaving a whole segment of the population no longer able to identify with any of them. With our system of voting having been designed for two parties, if a voter doesn't support either the Liberals or Conservatives, he or she will never have his or her views meaningfully represented in government. Oldtimers, not just young people, understand this.

No wonder voter turnout continues to fall. No wonder polling numbers remain static. All parties are fighting over an ever-decreasing pile of votes, which results in an increasing percentage of it representing diehard party loyalists. The situation therefore becomes a matter of whether the typical Liberal or Conservative voter will vote for the other this time or next. If either chooses NDP or Green instead, they know they've no hope in hell of having their votes translate into meaningful representation. If these voters live outside Ontario or Quebec, again they can forget about meaningful representation, unless
  • they voted Lib or Con and
  • their party choice ended up forming government and
  • their MP is of that party and
  • their MP was chosen to be a well-placed member of the cabinet.
(The Bloc is a special case because of the size of population it is capable of representing.)

There's a silent, steady movement of resistance happening in Canada. It's time for others to wake up and stop the blame-game. The situation of eroding voter turnout will remain until first, the blaming and bashing of non-voters ends and second, politicians, journalists and members of the still voting population start listening to non-voters with respect and an intention to learn. Non-voters can tell them why close to half of the electorate no longer votes and what to do to turn things around. That last is key and relies on a solutions-based, NOT a problems-based approach.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Parliamentary Games

James Travers lists ten reasons why Parliament no longer serves the people. Among them is what he titles "Dumb and Dumber":

Happiness here is reducing complex problems to a bumper sticker. "Do the Crime, Do the Time" resonates, but it doesn't make Canadians safer any more than cutting the GST made us noticeably richer. Keep it simple, stupid, is the rule, not the exception. So stick this on your subsidized Suburban: "Don't just vote, think."

I've a better suggestion for that bumper sticker: "Think, don't vote."

Only THEN, provided enough of us choose NOT to vote, will politicos start to worry about their legitimacy to govern. Only THEN will politicos get serious about accountable and representative government.

We need to turn our backs on the whole lot of them and the system they've managed to despoil.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Monday, June 29, 2009

Canada No Longer Popular Among Canadians

This post over at Stageleft should be getting more attention.

Canadians across this land are increasingly feeling unrepresented and powerless - and powerless to change that situation. There's good reason for this and it's not just about our cruddy electoral system, vicious attack ads, parliamentary pissing contests, elitist party financing, and so on.

More crucially than any of those, it's the assumption that, as Canada continued stretching its boundaries east, west and north to include hugely diverse regions whose very diversity partly stems from their geography, the federation could remotely (literally) fairly represent and serve the diverse interests of all the people who live within it.

Federations are fine for geographically similar or smaller countries. They don't work for countries as large as Canada.

Go read Stageleft. He states it better than I.

See also this post which Daphne and I wrote back in January, and this one written by James Bow.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Thursday, June 11, 2009

French High Court: Internet Access Fundamental Right

Can't disagree with this statement. In their ruling regarding web piracy, France's highest court, the Constitutional Council declared the Internet to be "a fundamental human right that can not be taken away by anything other than a court of law."

Certainly in modern democracies Internet access is a political necessity. In Canada, it should be included among our demands for democratic reform.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace.]

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Until Nonvoters Heard, Low Voter Turnout Likely to Continue

There must be something circulating in the wind. Just this morning I sent the following email to Peter Sircom Bromley, the writer of an article which appeared in Common Ground magazine. I also cc'd the email to CG.


Dear Mr. Bromley:

I was a volunteer with the BC-STV campaign and read your article in Common Ground ("First Past the Post Mortem") with interest.

The only jarring point for me was at the very beginning. In the second sentence, you wrote:

"Less than half of BC’s eligible voters showed up at the polls, meaning that less than a third of BC’s electorate rejected a proposal that might have made such displays of apathy and imbalance a thing of the past."

Please don't sum up all nonvoting as "apathy."

People who research the issue note that the majority of nonvoters are far from apathetic; this, importantly, includes young people. Nonvoters are as, if not more concerned about the direction of this country as voters are; and many nonvoters are engaged politically in other ways and are volunteers in their communities.

Mainstream media love to perpetuate the myth of the apathetic voter, and the voting public happily and often arrogantly goes along with it. But voter apathy is a myth which misrepresents and is disrespectful of what, for most nonvoters, has been a painful decision. In their (our) view, participation in a system that is not representative of the values of a sizeable majority of the electorate is an endorsement of that system.

Voters are free to disagree with us, but anyone who cares about Canada's increasingly low voter turnouts, must start listening to what nonvoters are saying about WHY they aren't voting, rather than simply labelling us all as apathetic and holding our opinions of no consequence precisely because we don't vote.

Lectures using such techniques to nonvoters appear in editorials of newspapers, including my two local papers, every election season. If low voter turnout is indeed a concern, then the logic of such tactics baffles me. It also serves to preserve the status quo.

Chrystal Ocean
Non-voters Alliance for Democratic & Electoral Reform


Here was Mr. Bromley's quick and positive response:
You make a very good point. As you suggest, apathy doesn't really describe the mixed feelings and intentions of the voter who faces very limited choices on election day. Not-voting is as much a statement as voting.
Nonvoters cannot afford to be silent if we want those who still vote to stop maligning us and realize that we're as concerned as many of they are about the failure of our democratic institutions.

We must work together, respectfully, if we want the system transformed to be inclusive of us all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We're Off to Calgary!

Daphne and I will be away for the next four days. We'll be away from our computers, away from Twitter, away from our blogs. Eeek! Don't know how I, for one, will be able to cope.

Anyway, we have been provided a full bursary to attend the Canada Social Forum in Calgary, hosted by the Canadian Council on Social Development. The focus of the forum this year is poverty.

For Daphne and I, it will not only be an event with lots of opportunities for networking and inserting our persnickety views, it will also be four days and three nights of getting spoiled!

We get to fly on an airplane! We're staying at the Hyatt Regency!

There'll be nutritious and bountiful food. Television and radio. Our beds will be made for us. We'll have nice smelly stuff for our baths and showers. Soft lotions for our skin. Gentle shampoos and conditioners for our hair.

We return to our homes late Friday and will likely be back online Saturday.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Unrepresentative Party System Also Blameworthy

It is not just the electoral process but the state of our party system which is causing our democracy to go off the rails.

Representative democracy doesn't appear to work as well in countries as geographically diverse as ours. Along with geography can come cultural differences; place does matter and can have a profound influence on people's values. Add in global travel and the mass movement of people and cultures and the Canada we see today has gone far beyond its WASP roots (for which I, for one, am grateful).

With such diversity, an electoral system which doesn't - and a small elite class which won't - accommodate diverse perspectives will ultimately fail, as we are seeing ours do.

And it's not just members of that elite class who would shut out perspectives other than their own and thus prefer a less than fair system. I was struck by comments from both the host and listeners on a radio program which aired the day before the BC election. There was a lot of talk of "I don't want the Greens in" and fear of "fringe parties" or "wingnuts."

A guest on the program, Shoni Field, pointed out that the Greens were supported by about ten percent of the population. That didn't matter to these listeners or to the host. She also pointed out that with STV, parties unable to garner a decent number of votes wouldn't be able to win seats. That wasn't good enough for these folks either and I was frankly shocked. No matter how much anyone may dislike a party, how can anyone who believes in democracy support a party's exclusion IF it has support of more than five percent of the population?

It's not even about getting candidates of the existing major parties elected either. Many bloggers I've read have done the Political Compass test and been stunned to learn how far the existing parties are from their own values.

Not only is our electoral system failing us, it appears that our party system is too.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace.]

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Want to Lower Ranks of Non-voters? Then Start Listening

Listening requires that voters stop bashing non-voters, belittling us and blaming us for the failure of the system. It requires that they stop prattling on with the same old tired arguments which have done nothing to curb our swelling numbers.

That program hasn't been working, has it?

Some people are beginning to get it, some people have come to the realization that there's something seriously wrong. Some people are coming to understand that accusations of apathy, or laziness, or a failure of moral character, or a disengagement from community and politics more generally, simply don't add up. Such evaluations cannot account for the sheer number of eligible voters who are deciding not to vote.

These accusations are largely WRONG and miss the mark.

An editorial in a local paper is a case in point. It's one of similar editorials written in this paper over the years.
We have a democratic right to be apathetic about, or uninvolved in the process of government. We have a democratic right to speak volumes with our silence and leave what we are really thinking open to interpretation. We exercised those rights fully on Tuesday.

And it’s left to this space to interpret our silence as best as we can.

The editor might start by jettisoning the assumptions contained in his preamble, such as non-voters being "apathetic," "uninvolved in the process of government" or, my favourite, the assumption that people who don't vote haven't voiced their concerns including in letters to his paper. I would write a letter to the paper now but I've seen what is done to them.*

That this editor blocks out what doesn't mesh with his point of view is evidenced in his summary:
We can only draw two conclusions: the typical Cowichan citizen is either okay with the status quo, or does not believe getting involved is an effective way of making a difference.

How simple! Some of us are happy with the way things are. The rest of us are uninvolved.

Well, the editorial missed a few. Among non-voters are those who:
  • care passionately about their communities and a number of issues which affect those communities at all levels of government.
  • get involved in political parties, political campaigns, run for office locally, volunteer on local committees, participate in town halls and government-sponsored forums.
  • advocate through a number of means for a number of causes.
  • volunteer to help the infirm, the despairing, the overburdened, the violated, the frail elderly and others living in conditions which could be improved if only there was the political will.
  • are principled, would never pledge their word without conviction.
  • consider casting a vote tantamount to signing an endorsement in favour of a candidate, and the leader and platform of that candidate's party; for such people, "strategic voting" is anathema to the principles by which they lead the rest of their lives.

When the options offered do not represent your values and you hold voting to be an act as important as putting signature to paper, then you face a hard choice. Either you defy your own principles or you divorce yourself from the process.

* Such letters either never get printed or up to 70 percent of their contents are removed and the hacked up carcass is used to further the editor's (or publisher's) own agenda. An added bonus is that the remains make the letter writer appear unintelligent, whiny, a drain on society and thus unworthy of anyone's attention.

ETA: This is a more balanced article in the same paper. (Krista Seifken has been a great new addition.) However, 'apathy' is again used, this time inappropriately. Has me wondering how many people misunderstand the word's meaning.

Friday, May 15, 2009

P2: Non-voters' Alliance for Democratic & Electoral Reform

The following was originally posted to Challenging the Commonplace....

Well, a couple of hours ago, the Non-voters' Alliance for Democratic and Electoral Reform (NADER) had one member. Now it has four five. Anyone else interested in joining this Alliance should email me with your full name and contact info, including snail mail address.

NADER also has a Facebook group to which members of the Alliance are welcome to join.

To my earlier post, someone couldn't resist dropping off a comment which included the usual arguments. While it was politely worded and I appreciate that, I'd warned that such comments wouldn't be welcome and would be deleted.

Anyone notice the utter failure of those arguments to turn non-voters around or to prevent more people from joining them?

Most non-voters, certainly myself,* have heard all the arguments before. In fact, I used them. The arguments don't work. If anything, they antagonize people further.

Worse is the tendency of voters simply to shut their ears. They do not do what I finally did: stopped yakking and started listening to what non-voters were saying.

Part 1

* I haven't actually not voted yet. My decision not to vote federally anymore was made immediately after the October 14th election. At that time, I also decided I would not vote in BC anymore should the referendum on STV fail.

Non-voters' Alliance for Democratic & Electoral Reform

The following was originally posted, today, to Challenging the Commonplace.

Yep, you read that right. There's a new organization in Canada, just formed, with a current membership of one. The President of this new organization - me - predicts that by day's end, the membership of the Non-voters' Alliance for Democratic and Electoral Reform (NADER) will have ballooned by at least 100 percent....

And I'd no sooner finished typing that when my Gmail notifier dinged. Friend Daphne has just signed up.

Certainly, by the number of tweets, Facebook comments and blog and forum posts I've read, it's reasonable to surmise that the informal membership of the non-voting public has grown substantially since, well, Wednesday. And it's not just in BC that this phenomenon is manifesting itself; there's a quiet uprising of voter resistance from all across this country.

Now if anyone feels compelled to stop by and harangue non-voters for being "apathetic" or "lazy" or "failing to honour those who fought and died for our right to vote" (they fought for freedom, not for voting) or otherwise berate us for not partaking in the farce of Canadian elections, don't bother. Your comments will be deleted.

Shall write more on this topic in the coming days, weeks, months and years; in other words, for as long as it takes. For now, just wanted to get the news out.

More to come!