I remember one fine day, years ago when I was living in Glace Bay, I was driving home from downtown. I reached the stop sign at the top of Highland Street, and as I turned my head, I saw something that made me angry. It was a huge sign, right on the corner, and it was completely blocking my sightline to check for traffic coming down Dominion Street. The sign said, “VOTE JOHN MORGAN for MAYOR.” My immediate thought was, “What kind of moron would put a sign there?”
I knew what I had to do. I turned my car around, and headed back downtown. I was fairly certain that I knew where Mr. Morgan’s headquarters were, and in short time I found myself walking through the door of a building at the top of Commercial Street. I approached a young lady sitting behind a table, and I told her that I needed to speak with someone about a complaint that I had. As soon as I had finished speaking, a voice to my left said, “Hello. I’m John Morgan. Is there something I can help you with?” I turned to see a man in a suit smiling and offering me his hand, which I shook. I had never met Mr. Morgan before, and I was a little surprised at how young he looked. He looked to be roughly the same age as I was at that time. I introduced myself, and told him that I had a problem that I hoped he could fix. I remember that his facial expression changed immediately, and I had a very strong feeling that I had his undivided attention, which impressed me because the place looked pretty busy. I pressed on. I told him about the sign, where it was, and how I believed it to be a very serious safety hazard. When I’d finished, he said, “Thank you for telling me. I’ll have to do something about that.” As I had nothing else to say, I thanked him and left. I remember grumbling as I passed the sign on my way home.
I went out later that evening, and as I got to the bottom of Steele’s Hill, I saw the sign again. Only, it had been moved way back, so that it was no longer creating a hazard, as it had been earlier. I sat there, momentarily stunned. Then I smiled. “I’m going to vote for that guy,” I said to myself.
I told that story to everyone I could; friends, relatives, co-workers. I made it a point to find out more about John Morgan. I felt connected to the political process, more than I ever had before. I don’t remember what the final tally was on Election Day, but John Morgan became Mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality in that election, beating out, among others, the incumbent mayor. I felt good about that. I really felt like my vote, and my opinion, counted. I still feel good about it. John Morgan, despite what you might hear through the media, is a very popular mayor. He has won re-election twice by wide margins, most recently by garnering over 80% of the total votes cast. I proudly voted for him in all three elections.
Monday, May 2 is Election Day in Canada. It will be our fourth Federal Election in seven years, and our fifth since November, 2000. I have voted in all of these elections, and the question with which I have struggled each time is this: How do I make my vote count?
The problem that I have had over the past four elections is that the results seemed pre-determined in the ridings in which I was living. In 2000 and 2004, I lived in Glace Bay, where Rodger Cuzner won with more votes than all the other candidates combined. I didn’t like Cuzner, but I couldn’t see the point in voting for anyone else. Now, as in the previous two elections, I live in Lower Sackville, where Peter Stoffer rules. Once again, I find myself with the choice of voting for a candidate who, although I like him, does not need my vote (Stoffer tallied 61.42% of the votes cast in 2008), or for another candidate who has no chance of winning.
I’m sure that there are a lot of ridings in Canada where this situation exists. I wonder if there are other people who feel the way that I do. I wonder if there’s any connection between this and recent voter apathy; voter turnout in 2008 was extremely low. It’s not difficult to understand why some people would take a “why bother” attitude when it seems that the election process gives them no real voice. I can’t imagine what it must be like for young potential voters, who see a system where their concerns aren’t addressed. It certainly can’t help that we are constantly bombarded with news stories about political scandals and advertisements where the parties seem more interested in attacking the other candidates than in extolling their own candidates’ virtues. Why would anyone want to get involved?
So, what’s a voter to do? It helps if you have a candidate or a party that you truly believe in or want to support. I think that when we vote, we all want “our guy” (or “gal”) to win. But what if “your guy” has no chance? I don’t have the answer to that. I can tell you what I have done. In this election, and in the previous three, I have voted for the Green Party candidate in my riding (I’ve already voted in this election, in the Advance Poll). I like the Green Party. I especially like the party’s commitment to environmental issues. To me, supporting them represents positive change for the future. They are a relatively new party, and I like the idea of another voice bringing new perspectives and ideas into a system that has become staid and stale. And, though I have known each time that my “my guy” has no chance of winning, I still feel like I am part of something important for two reasons. First, by voting Green, I believe that I make it more difficult for our government to ignore the environmental issues that are important to me. I want the other parties to want my vote, and to alter their priorities in order to get it. I also vote Green because of the Federal Per-vote Subsidy. For those of you who may not be aware, a political party in Canada receives government subsidies if, simply put, it manages to gain a certain amount of the popular vote. So, even though my vote may not get the Greens a seat in Parliament, my vote still has the potential to help the party in the future. At the risk of sounding like a kook, I feel a connection with my fellow Canadians who vote Green, in that we are working together toward a common goal.
I think that it would be exciting to live in a riding like Sydney-Victoria, where, a very popular incumbent, Liberal Mark Eyking, is being opposed by Conservative Cecil Clarke, an extremely popular former MLA. I think that it will be interesting to see whether the voters can be swayed to vote for Clarke, whose Conservative Party will likely form the government and would therefore give that riding a stronger voice. I imagine that voters in that riding feel like their votes will definitely mean something. It must really feel like something is at stake there. I envy them.
I have met Mark Eyking, and I like him. I hope that Cecil Clarke wins, though. I think it will be better for Sydney-Victoria to have a representative in the governing party. In fact, I hope that Clarke’s win will be part of a national change that brings the Conservatives a majority government. I know that that might sound strange, considering the Conservative Party’s reputation and my professed affection for the Green Party. It’s just that it seems like the country is directionless. I think that a majority government will at least give the country the direction that it needs. Maybe things will change for the better with a majority government. Or, perhaps the Conservatives will be so terrible that we Canadians will awaken from our collective stupor, make a more concerted effort to involve ourselves in the political process, and create the change that we want and need.
All I know is these minority governments aren’t working. I’m sick and tired of expensive elections, divisiveness, and rhetoric. The numbers from the Advance Polls have shown an increase in voter interest; voter turnout for these polls were up by 34% nationally and 75% in Nova Scotia over 2008. (I worked at an Advance Poll last weekend as a Poll Clerk, and we were very busy) I hope that voters turn out on Monday in great numbers. I hope for some kind of positive change. If you are 18 or older, you have a vote. I hope you make your vote count.