After all the ballots had been counted last Tuesday night, it looked like there was little change in Parliament; same Prime minister, same minority government. Buried under all this sameness, though, was an Election Day record.
The 2008 Canadian Election attracted the lowest voter turnout in history. Less than 60 per cent of the electorate cast a ballot on Oct 14. In other words, around 10 million eligible voters didn’t vote.
According to Bruce Hick, a political science professor at Concordia and n associate at the Canada Research Chair in electoral studies, decreasing voter turnout is a trend that has been going on for a while. “From World War II to the beginning of the Chrétien era, voting was pretty consistent at about 75 per cent in Canada, but it has steadily declined since then,” he said.
The trend is growing, with each successive generation. “It’s not simply that young people aren’t voting,” said Hicks. “It’s a generational thing.”
Marvin Hershorn, a political science professor at Concordia, said the low voter turnout can be attributed to the fact that, after three elections in four years, Canadians are no longer interested. “People are indifferent to the whole electoral process because it’s like the ‘groundhog day election.'”
But Hicks said the downward trend in voter turnout isn’t exclusive to Canada, so it can’t be blamed solely on “election burnout.” He pointed to the United States where, despite having fixed election dates, they have one of the lowest voter turnouts in the world.
The problem lies with new voters. Hicks said that people who came of age in the 1940s and 1950s vote consistently, in high numbers, throughout their lives. People who grew up in the 1960s vote “fairly well.”
“But then you have generations X and Y,” said Hicks. “They’re voting less and less.”
Knowing who is and isn’t voting is only half the question. The “27 million person question,” according to Hicks, is why these people aren’t voting.
Hicks believes one of the main reasons why younger generations aren’t voting is because they don’t feel they have to. “We don’t instill a sense in each generation, that it’s their duty to vote,” he said.
The other question, he says, is that the perceived importance of going out and voting decreases in races that are less competitive. “By Election Day, everybody was being told Harper would be back with a minority government. So if we know the outcome,” he said, “why bother to vote?”
If more people start asking themselves “why bother to vote?” the integrity of elections and governments can be jeopardized. Hicks asked, “When voter turnout drops below 50 per cent, do we no longer have a valid democracy?”
Canada might have to look to different countries for ways to get voters out to the polls.
Hicks said that, although changes to the electoral system to something like proportional representation or introducing compulsory voting could boost voting, they are controversial actions.
Hershorn believes there has to be a process to allow younger people to participate in campaigns so that they feel like they’re taking part in the decision-making process.
But, as Hicks pointed out, changing peoples’ attitudes is not an easy task
Marie-Élaine St-Amour, 26, Hairstylist, Quebec
Did you vote? “No I didn’t.”
Why? “I’m just not into politics, and I didn’t find that any candidates deserve my vote.”
Melanie Watson, 24, Student, Quebec
Did you vote? “I didn’t vote.”
Why? “Really, I just had other stuff to do.”
Jeremy Widerman, 27, Musician, Ontario
Did you vote? “No.”
Why? “Because at the end of the day, I just don’t care and am lazy. I can’t tell the difference and I don’t trust any of them will do what they say they are going to.”
Adam Harrison, 21, Bartender, Ontario
Did you vote? “Nope.”
Why? “Because I worked 19 hours that day.”
Evan Godfrey, 28, Director’s Assistant, British Columbia
Did you vote? “I didn’t vote.”
Why? “Because my riding in East Vancouver is always landslide victories. The incumbents are well liked and capable. And because the popular vote doesn’t mean shit, I’d much rather sleep in.”
Brittany Anderson, 22, Language assistant at a CÉGEP and a student, Quebec
Did you vote? “Of course I did.”
Why? “I voted because I think it’s right and responsibility as a citizen of Canada to make my voice heard in a federal election. I think it’s preposterous that only 59 per cent of Canadian’s voted.”
Max Kelly, 21, Theatre student, Quebec
Did you vote? “Yes I did, without a doubt.”
Why? “Because I feel it’s a very empowering feeling, it makes me feel like I have a say. I looked into it and I realized that my riding would be a close one.”