As I’ve been doing interviews with local city council candidates for CFRU’s Open Sources Guelph, there’s been a recurring note in those conversations. First, it seems like there are a lot of people who don’t know there’s a municipal election right now, and second, they don’t seem to know what ward they’re currently living in.
I confess, I don’t understand this ignorance. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in the news: Who’s doing what? Why are they doing it? How is this happening? There’s a world full of questions, and it’s not easy getting answers, which is why we have these people called “reporters” going out and getting them.
I suppose this is where we say, “Well, you can lead a horse to water…”
But why is it so hard to make people drink? I turned 11 years old in 1989, and I could somehow manage a Batman obsession while still following the student protests in Tiananmen Square, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. When my Nana turned 90 a couple of years later, I thought it was pretty cool that our local MP, MPP and mayor all came to her party and presented her with certificates for longevity.
Nerd doing nerd stuff. I know.
When I turned 18, it was not a question of if I would vote in the first available election, I was definitely going to vote. In fact, the first available election was going to be a municipal election the next fall, but Jean Chrétien pulled the plug on his first parliament the summer before.
Being a little older, and hopefully wiser, I know that voting is not the end of democracy, but the beginning. I like to think that I use this space, and my various other journalistic outputs, as part of an overall mission to create a better-informed public who can contribute well to the ideals of self-governance.
I also know that if you’re reading this, and the other things I write on this site, you’re the choir and I’m presently preaching to you.
Most of the last several municipal elections have seen a voter turnout rate of around one-third of eligible voters. The only exception is the one-year Guelph had internet voting when the turnout rate went over 40 per cent. What’s the delta? I refuse to believe that 10 per cent is the difference between convenience and inconvenience, which is to say more people voted because they could do it at home.
And if ease of vote was the answer, then why did *only* 40 per cent of people vote when they could have done it between binge watching Orange is the New Black and cyber stalking old high school frenemies on Facebook?
Perhaps our old friend cynicism is to blame.
I’ve seen it many times in forums discussing this current election, refrains about politicians being only self-interested, personal stories about a less than satisfactory encounter or conversation with one of the incumbents. I can appreciate the disappointment, but it feels kind of silly to expect our public officials to basically be that 100 per cent emoji at all times.
But when it comes to politics, it’s easier to believe the bad stuff. Pop culture has also primed us to think that all politicians (unless your Mr. Smith or President Bartlet) are in politics to enrich themselves. Of course, there are real-life reasons for people to think that too, but is the business of politics so morally corrupt – a swamp, if you will – that you can’t find even one person worth voting for?
Perhaps we’re looking at these things all wrong. Is someone not tuned in to politics going to listen to the politicians? Are they suddenly going to be scanning the city website for information, or bookmarking this or some other local news site? It occurs to me that if someone doesn’t know there’s an election on, then they definitely won’t know that they’re supposed to be looking up election information.
This is where you come in. You are a politically engaged person, whoever you are. You clearly care enough to read the musings of a city hall columnist, and you have a pretty decent sense of curiosity and an above-average long attention span if you made it this far.
Perhaps you know someone in your life that has opinions about city business but doesn’t know that there’s an election on Oct. 24. Perhaps you know someone that has a beef with the incumbent councillor in Ward 1 but doesn’t realize they’re now in Ward 2. Perhaps this person you know votes in the federal and provincial elections, but for some strange reason sits out the municipal election.
In a podcast this week, Canadaland editor Jonathan Goldsbie noted that if the House of Commons or Queen’s Park disappeared tomorrow, it might take some time for you to notice. But if 1 Carden Street was suddenly scooped off the map, how long do you think it would take for all of us to realize it? When the garbage piles up? When the bus never comes? When you show up for swimming lessons and no one’s there?
For now, I’m just concerned about what happens if we have an election and almost no one shows up. What are you prepared to do to make sure that doesn’t happen?