Saturday, April 30, 2011

Not voting is not an option

My special ballot finally arrived in the mail this week. Never before has voting felt so unsatisfying. Never before have I had to choose from a more lackluster list of candidates.

I voted in the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, in the middle-class Toronto neighbourhood where I grew up and where my parents still live. The strange thing about voting from abroad is that you get to choose the riding you want to vote in. You can either vote in the riding where you last lived or where a spouse or family member currently lives.

You can even choose the dubious option of registering an address of "a person with whom you would live if you were not residing outside of Canada." This seems highly subjective. I mean, I would totally live with my friend Annelle in Vancouver. She has a nice house and a cute cat. The fact that she probably wouldn't want me to move in with her is irrelevant. I could register her address anyway. Which means that those of us living overseas can pretty much vote in any riding we want.

But I decided to keep it simple and cast my ballot in the place where my emotional roots run deepest. I may have lived in Vancouver for seven years but Toronto is home.

Like any good civically minded citizen, I did a little bit of research before I voted. This is what I found out about the five candidates running in Etobicoke-Lakeshore:

Bernard Trottier, Conservative: His key issues are (surprise, surprise) lower taxes and continued economic growth. If he had a slogan, it would be Business as Usual. The environment and social justice are nowhere to be found on his website. He's a senior consulting manager, "working with Canadian and international companies to improve their competitiveness and profitability" (words that deaden the soul). He claims to regularly mix with the immigrant community by attending religious celebrations at Polish and Ukrainian churches. The guy is a shortsighted, out-of-touch relic from the last century. Next!

Michael Erickson, New Democrat: His two big issues are increased funding for public transit and the environment. He has solid community-activist credentials (works as a high school teacher, takes teens on social justice trips to Ghana, served on the LGBT Youth Line Board of Directors, worked with the Metro Network for Social Justice, and volunteered as a poverty and disability activist). Of all the candidates, he is the kind of politician I'd most like to clone. Ottawa needs more compassionate and socially progressive people in power. But he's running in the wrong riding. He doesn't have a hope in hell in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. No one here votes NDP. The first and last time Etobicoke-Lakeshore elected an NDP Member of Parliament was in 1972.

David Corail, Green: He wants increased federal funding for public transit. He wants to build a community centre for young people. But he's too inexperienced. According to his website, he's lived in the area for almost 20 years and is raising his family there. And that seems to be all he has done. Also, his website contains horribly worded and utterly meaningless phrases like, "We must also invest in peace. And we must shockproof our society against unforeseeable events by building in resilience." Huh? He's probably a nice guy but he's not a serious contender.

Janice Murray, Marxist-Leninist: She is "calling on the women, workers and youth in the riding to join her in organizing to empower themselves and elect an anti-war government." Workers of Etobicoke-Lakeshore unite! The only problem is that the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada is supportive of North Korea and batshit crazy Kim Jong-il. Next!

Michael Ignatieff, Liberal: The incumbent. The leader of the Liberal Party. The potential prime minister. Ignatieff is the heavyweight in this riding and he casts a long shadow over all of the other candidates. His intelligence borders on brilliance (he's an award-winning writer and deep thinker who has held senior academic posts at Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard). His background is extraordinarily, intimidatingly impressive (check out his wiki page for all of the eye-popping details). But his campaign has been safe, inoffensive and banal. He talks about the importance of families, jobs, health care and seniors. But there's no substance behind the spin. No fresh ideas. The Liberal Party is just so middle-of-the-road. Not quite left wing. Not quite right wing. I'm sure Ignatieff would be a competent and strong prime minister, just not an inspiring one.

So there you have it. The lackluster list of candidates I had to choose from. Not that my vote is going to make much of a difference. The Liberals consistently win this riding and they win it by a large margin. According to unscientific research conducted by my mom, Ignatieff's lawn signs currently outnumber all others by about 99 to one.

I voted with a sense of resignation, not feeling particularly inspired by any of the Parties. The Liberals are too dated, the Conservatives too out-of-touch, the Greens too amateurish, the NDP too idealistic. I say this in the most non-partisan way possible. I always vote based on the merit of the individual candidates, not based on an allegiance to a particular Party. And that's why I decided to vote for Michael Ignatieff this time around. I don't particularly like the Liberal Party. I do, however, like Michael Ignatieff. Or, rather, I like the gravitas of his experience. He is ready to govern.

Having said that, I think Jack Layton would make the best prime minister of the bunch. Of all the leaders, he is the most appealing. I like his focus on social justice and the environment. I like his sincerity. I like his emphasis on hope. I think he would be the one to best steer Canada back to its compassionate roots, both at home and abroad. Stephen Harper has steered us so far in the opposite direction that we need to take a hard left to bring us back on track.

But I'm not telling you who to vote for. The most important thing is to vote. Just vote! If every single one of us voted, then we'd have a truly democratic government -- one that actually represents the majority of Canadians. Not voting is not an option.

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