Sault Ste. Marie Op-Ed | Election Hopscotch 2015: Valuable Voting?

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I love an election. Federal, municipal, provincial, even post-secondary student unions, elections are my favourite time of the administrative term.

Elections are the moments that you see people – the voters, the corner stone of our society – getting their hands dirty with democracy for multiple weeks at a time. I know some folks who do not stand with me in that excitement. I used to be the kind of person that would cringe at the thought of having to choose a mouthpiece for the next four years. Tears would well in my eyes at the sight of a ballot, because I firmly believed that the effort I put into voting was valueless. As a young (ish) person in Canada, I felt cheated by a flawed electoral system that begged for my vote but never had the intention of representing my best interests. I felt cheated of any gratitude, so much that I would have settled for a shirt that read: “I just gave some privileged baby boomer a pension and soapbox and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

Elections are exciting to me now because they are not a sprint. There’s no reason to get to the finish line in record time. Elections aren’t even a marathon – there are still opportunities for marathons to be too fast and regrets can still happen with no recourse. I think of elections as hopscotch; a bumpy road with many steps to take, but a clear goal to visualize for the election hopefuls and voters equally.

Voters hop around the talking points and sound bites of candidates in their riding. In the Sault, we have candidates in the election that are recognizable (or at least used to be) and active in community development. We also have candidates emerging from the relative unknown and it seems difficult to get anything other than a party produced canned sound bite as a response. We have candidates who have virtually no party support but still cannot hold ground against the polished campaigns of former PR interns in Ottawa.

I want to learn more about Skip Morrison from the source, and not a copy and pasted bio from a writer in Ottawa. Finding more information on this candidate looks to be challenging for the average Googler. His official party website reads like a cover letter applying for an entry-level job. His performance in recent debates has been called “arrogant” and “unfitting of a rookie candidate”. But I give Skip credit for that. Like his party leader Tom Mulcair, he needs to express the confidence to keep up with the veteran campaigner and the community leader. If the NDP wants a chance at being successfully elected to govern, the optics of confidence masked as arrogance may be a necessary trait.

It will certainly contrast with the sense of obsequious obligation we get from our incumbent. Bryan Hayes seems to think we owe him another term. So much so that there is a noticeable lack of effort put into campaigning, much like the perception of his first term rodeo on Parliament Hill. The occasional sign on a lawn or street corner is fine, it shows that he’s engaged with some of the electorate but the lack of participation in recent Union debates has me confused. Why not try to win the votes of the main industrial resource in your riding? Especially considering his participation in the committees on the industry, it seems arrogant in a viscerally privileged way.

There’s something important to remember here – elections do not simply select your public policy paper pusher. Our job here isn’t to show who we’re voting for by wearing a certain colour or displaying a lawn sign. Our job is to show those tasked with our best interests in the direction we want to have our society take. As the deciders of their career fate, we should be free to ask those candidates their personal stances on the issues without needing to be vetted by headquarters or searched for our past party participation.

Let’s make the candidates speak without the puppet masters behind them. Let’s see if they can hold a conversation without mentioning their party but what they can do for us because we are their potential constituents, their electorate, and their hiring panel. If my vote is to have any value, I need to put the effort into getting the value of that vote. I need to learn more about these candidates and how they plan to change our society. Sure there is that pesky little “First Past the Post” system that will decide the Prime Minister and the governing party, but also the economic, social and legal future of the value of our votes.

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