On Sunday, September 7th 2008, Canada’s 39th Parliament was dissolved, and on October 14th Canada held an election. Many Americans were ignorant of these developments, despite the fact that we are their largest trading partner and that we share the longest undefended border on the globe.
The Canadian system is quite different than the American one. Ours is a parliamentary system involving multiple parties.
The night that the party leaders debated was also the same night as the American vice presidential debate. One would believe that what our potential leaders had to say would be of great importance to Canadians, and yet the American debate garnered more viewership. What does this say about Canadian belief in our government?
We have many of the same issues facing the American populace, including and not limited to racism, the economy, homophobia, healthcare, abortion, sexism, etc., and yet this was one of the lowest voter turnouts ever recorded. According to Yahoo News, only 59.1% of eligible voters participated.
Canadian voter apathy is a real threat to our democracy and this was barely addressed by the CBC or our national newspapers.
Failing to vote is not a sign of belief in the ruling party, it indicates a complacent population that no longer believes voting will have an effect on how the government is being run. The alienation between the people and our leadership signals the inability of our leaders to inspire trust and passion for the democracy upon which our country’s political foundation is built.
Having the United States as our closet neighbour has had troubling effects on Canadian identity. Discursively, Canadian identity is built not on specific events or ideas, but is more soundly founded upon opposition to the United States. It is this opposition that made Joe Canada so famous. Yet in the search for a true Canadian identity many sections of society are often excluded.
Natives continue to be disenfranchised. Their participation in the election, particularly in Northern parts of the country, is key to parties like the Liberals, NDP, and the Green Party, yet many did not possess the necessary documentation to vote. The new voting laws require government issued I.D with a street name and a house number. Aboriginal Canadians who did not possess the required identification could vote after having their status verified by their tribal council, but many did not return to the polls.
This was a great boon to the Conservative party that does not generally benefit from the votes of Natives, immigrants, or any group of visible minorities. Harper is now smiling all the way to Parliament while many of the traditionally disenfranchised Canadians breathe a sigh of relief, because while the Conservative Party managed to strengthen their position, it still had to settle for a minority government after winning 143 seats instead of the 155 needed for a majority.
Learning that so many were unable to vote reminded me eerily of the Bush/ Gore election of 2000. Living in a country that often glances southward to evaluate its position and worth, I find it interesting that we are committing the same sort of mistake in our electoral process. If poor and racialized bodies are unable to have their voices heard, the government will only reflect the wishes of the white and wealthy.
Since Canada largely views itself as a white country, despite the false ideology of multiculturalism and the salad bowl, many who seek to continue on the trend of white hegemony and racial marginalization and exploitation will be thrilled with the current status quo. Holding on to the same model does provide a sense of continuity; however it does not lead to the spark of excitement that Canadians are so clearly craving. Not since the ascension of Trudeau to Capitol Hill have Canadians been truly excited and invigorated by our political process.
We do not have an Obama talking about change and growth; we do not even have an angry McCain spouting about patriotism through veiled racism. Nothing about Harper, Dion, or Layton screams unity or even healthy division. When we look southward, what we see is a country that has been reinvigorated by the political process. In comparison, or much beloved Maple Leaf seems to hang limply.
Looking southward with both envy and disdain is not going to improve our political process. Though generally speaking the parliamentary system allows for a much fairer representation of the population, if people are prevented from voting or are not inspired to vote, the process itself is meaningless.
Canadians need to move beyond being invigorated by images like Joe Canada, in order to ensure that we have a system that represents our needs and not our envy or derision.