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Op-Ed: Canadian politics and the idiot problem

Today there may be more idiots than ever, at least in the classical sense. In an excellent analogy that takes the original intent of the word full-circle, Mark Twain is credited with writing, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” The quote brilliantly encapsulates, with a prototypical barb of Twainian humour, why so many Canadians – especially those aged 18-24 – are disengaged with politics if not outright disaffected. (An aside; the quote above may not be from Twain. It first appears in Albert B Paine’s 1912 biography of Mr. Clemens, and there is speculation that the quip came from Paine himself although it was presented as Twain’s.)

While it is generally true that modern Canadian politicians focus on ‘families’, the ‘middle-class’, and the interest groups that are most likely to vote, this is no excuse for the under-represented to shirk participation. And be sure, with even marginally improved voter turnout – with even a slight reduction to the idiotis caste – Canada could change dramatically.

During the 2011 federal election, 14 key ridings were won by the Harper government by a combined total of 6,201 votes. If these ridings gone another way Canada may already be governed by the 23rd prime minister in the nation’s history and, without question, the Conservative’s would not have had a majority government over the last four years. In one riding the race was decided by 14 votes. The crux of the message here is that each Canadian vote actually matters.

According to Elections Canada, voter turnout has hovered near historic lows throughout the 21st century, with just 58.5 percent of Canadians putting to use their right to vote in 2011 (re: adjusted voter turnout). Of those aged 18-24, astonishingly and meagrely, 38.8 percent made it out. Next to them, in both age and political ambivalence, were those aged 25-34, of which 45.1 percent voted. Conversely and with seeming respectability, among those aged 65-74 and 55-64 the percentage was nearly double than the youngest segment of the population with a turnout of 75.1 and 71.5 percent, respectively. The kicker? The 75.1 percent that marks our best is probably shadowed by Denmark’s least likely, where the national turnout average for their 2015 election was 85.8 percent. In short it’s safe to say that Canadians could improve their turnout numbers. And while it could easily and lazily be inferred from this that I am simply arguing for greater turnout at the ballot boxes, this would ignore the original point of the essay. We need, in addition to greater turnout, fewer idiotis‘.

Indeed, it is one thing to vote while it is another thing to know why you are voting. Those who do vote, but do so only because of a perceived civic duty, are idiots no less than those who do not vote at all. In other words, it is not less idiotic to vote for someone because, historically, you’ve liked the party (or, more likely, your family has), than to not vote because you don’t know who you’d be voting for. While this line of thinking is likely to get me in hot water, the guff I may face is largely due to the idea that if one does not vote they do not deserve the right at all; BS. In fact, I argue that without any knowledge of who one is voting for, there is a great danger in voting for anyone at all. This, much as everything written above, is to encourage political engagement and is in an effort toward eliminating Athenian idiocy.

I spoke to several potential voters in preparation for this article and while the majority of the answers were banal, with far too many saying they will vote for “their party,” the words of Timothy Nicola struck a chord. Timothy is 24, has never voted and said that the odds of his voting are “really low” in 2015. “I haven’t seen any effect on me” he said with regard to the current leadership, “and I don’t think [my vote] changes things, as much as we want that.” After spending time with Elections Canada, as an usher and then as an accountant, he also mentioned that he has yet to receive a voting card, “if you want me to vote, show me how to.” (For the record, don’t expect to receive a voters card until October 1st, dear reader, as this is the ‘due date’ for them – if you don’t have one by then, please be in touch with Elections Canada via phone, online inquiry, by mail or by visiting an Elections Canada office.)

As seen in 2015, in Canada it can take but one interest group–6,201 strong or better–to decide the immediate political future. On October 19th, 2015 Canadians will head to the ballot boxes to decide whether to continue under the direction of Stephen Harper or to choose a new PM; will you be there? Do be. And more than simply voting, ask yourself who you want and why. It is not so much if you vote as it is why you vote, though it must be said that if you don’t or do so without an informed option, you are the classical definition of an idiot.

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