If Canada were a person right now, it would be an intelligent but confused young adult.
From our country’s infancy, Canadians have struggled to define what, exactly, it means to be Canadian. We have grown into a peaceful and diverse society, one built on the backs of immigrants from every corner of the globe. We have faced depressions, social upheaval and linguistic battles that have nearly torn us apart. Despite everything, this still young, occasionally apprehensive nation has managed to persevere. We continue to be shaped by a dynamic, collective will for something better: a stronger society, a clearer definition of who we are, a national identity based on the values of “peace, order, and good government.” It is this spirit of collaboration despite our diverse and sometimes divisive views that has made us great.
However, modern Canada faces a very real threat. It is not the violence or corruption that plagues so much of the world today. Nor is it the ever-present undercurrents of separatism in Quebec. Today, Canada faces the threat of a crumbling, apathetic democracy. We are becoming a nation that doesn’t care. Amongst young Canadians, the numbers are alarming. Elections Canada estimates barely a third of young voters cast ballots in the 2008 Federal Election. If you consider that there are almost 3 million voters under 25, over 10% of the eligible electorate, the number of potential votes not cast is staggering. Most young Canadians don’t understand their own political system. Worse, most don’t care.
For a fervent follower of all things political, there is nothing more depressing, more frustrating than hearing that most dubious of phrases: “One vote doesn’t matter.” The statement is simple and the attitude defeatist, but the repercussions are massive. It calls to mind the analogy of a drop in a very large pond, obscured by the mass of water that absorbs it. But this analogy gives way to a very important reality: a pond is nothing but drops. The individual vote, however, underlies the collective vote, and through this, the collective exerts and exercises a power that is the fundamental core of democracy. It is through that collection of drops, of individuals braving against the powers that be to stand up, speak, start a dialogue and change minds that wills all great political movements into existence.
The only vote thrown away is the vote not cast. To declare that you don’t have time, can’t be bothered, or simply don’t care is not just a dismissal of a very rare gift—the opportunity to participate in decisions that affect you and everyone around you—it is a dismissal of your own self-worth. To not care about voting is to not care about your family, your health, your job, your tax dollars and how they are spent. When you can’t be bothered to participate, you tell society that you have no desire to positively contribute, only to demand and complain. When you refuse to take just a few moments to think about and decide what kind of world you want, you declare that your opinion has no value. You’re saying you don’t matter.
If the youth of this nation engage themselves, Canada will change. Political parties often court the elderly because they are more likely to vote. Thus older citizens’ needs are addressed before those of young people because they are more reliable at the ballot box. It doesn’t seem fair, but it is how the political game is played. Polls have shown that if only persons aged 18–25 voted, they would elect a radically different Parliament than any over the past decade. Government policy would be forced to shift massively to confront the concerns of young adults: jobs, the environment, affordable education.
The combined power of millions of young voices would profoundly reshape our political realities.
When a society becomes informed, great things can be accomplished. When young people, idealistic and hopeful, put forward radical ideas, societies can shift. When one person chooses to challenge the status quo, to demand the right to be heard, to fight for something better, revolutions can start.
So stand up and be heard. You are more than students, more than observers, more than silent faces in a sea of people. You are a voice, an opinion, an idea. You have the right to express your hopes, dreams, demands, and goals. You have the right not only to tell the government, your government, what matters to you, but to contribute to its very existence. On May 2, 2011, help show the world the power of Canadian democracy.
Refuse to be silent. Vote.
Voter turnout statistics courtesy of Elections Canada; www.elections.ca.
Youth voting projections/statistics: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/how-parliament-would-look-if-only-youthvoted/article1747999/