Carol’s Corner: remembering not to take our right to vote for granted

Suffragette Marching, London Circa. 1911
Suffragette Marching, London Circa. 1911

“To Vote or Not To Vote, that is the question:

Whether it is nobler in the mind to support

The governance of the current bunch,

Or take a chance with someone else,

And by opposing send them

To Ottawa.”

Of course CARP members have no such dilemma. Seniors have the best voting record in the country, probably beginning with the first federal election held in this country in 1867, when John A. Macdonald lead the Conservative Party to victory, prevailing over Liberal George Brown, and Joseph Howe, who was anti-Confederation.   John A. and the Conservatives had a long run at either governing or being the largest opposition party, becoming the Progressive Conservative Party in 1942, then morphing back to Conservative when they amalgamated with the Canadian Alliance in 2003.

It took a long time and a lot of effort before women were allowed near a ballot box. In 1916 women could vote in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, but only in provincial elections. Ontario and British Columbia joined their ranks in 1917, followed by Nova Scotia in 1918 and New Brunswick in 1919. Observing that the sky had not fallen, Prince Edward has followed suit in 1922. Newfoundland – which was part of Great Britain – extended the vote to women in 1925. It took Quebec until 1940 to take the plunge. As for federal elections, the Dominions Election Act of 1920 gave both men and women the right to vote as long as they were British citizens, 21 years of age or older, and residents of Canada for 12 months.

We were a lot tougher on Chinese and Indo-Canadians, who didn’t get the right to vote until 1947, and Japanese-Canadians in 1948. Even worse, Canadian First Nations had to wait until 1960. Some First Nations members object to voting, believing this would negatively affect their nation’s treaty relationship; as they are citizens of their own nations, not Canada. On the other hand, pragmatism has convinced others that helping to elect a government that will deal fairly with them, will be of greater benefit. Since 2000 homeless people can vote by registering using the address of a homeless shelter.

While we feel free to castigate politicians, and politics in general on any of our favourite issues,

volunteering in an election campaign for any candidate of any party can be an eye-opener. Whichever the party, no matter the budget, the effort involved by the candidate and the foot soldiers is detailed, interesting, repetitive, never-ending, surprising, exhausting and – sometimes – exhilarating. You find yourself going door-to-door, observing how the candidate interacts with anyone who dares open that door. Usually that person is polite, even though not necessarily a supporter. Occasionally the brickbats fly and the candidate smiles and nods, while trying to turn away from wrath with a soft answer; then it’s on to the next door. Some passers-by gladly accept campaign handouts; others shy away as though you were trying to sell them something which, in a way, you are.

You may wonder why people even want to run for office, particularly those who are not likely in line for a cabinet post. They tell you, I want to contribute to the country; I think I can offer something; I want to help my community. And, for the most part, I think they mean it.

All parties track the responses they receive at the door, over the phone, via email and texting and any other electronic means. The tech gurus gather it all up and meet regularly with staff to determine how the candidate is doing. The last line of the English translation of Aesop’s fable, “the Fox and the Lion” is “Familiarity breeds contempt.” But familiarity also means that voters get to know the names of the people running in their riding. So, even with all the modern technology in use, lawn signs have proven that they are still an effective way of at least getting your candidates name out there.

Then comes the day we’ve been waiting for. Election Day. Get Out The Vote Day. This is the culmination of all your hard work and the hard work of all those running for office, winners and losers, topped off with what you hope will be the Victory Party.

Like you, I have watched several debates, and I marvel at the people doing simultaneous translation. Just to add to the challenge, sometimes I have activated Close Captioning. Because these were live broadcasts, the captions are a few seconds behind the actual speech. Someone types the words into a special program that adds the captions to the television signal. Not only do the typists have to be fast and accurate, but in this case they have to be able to spell words that they hear in translation. This resulted in my television screen showing dozens of words that do not exist in any language. However, under the circumstances, the typists deserve full marks for hard work and originality.

In 1867, the Conservatives won 101 seats, and the Liberals 80. With the new ridings added this year, there will be 338, 30 more than last time: BC goes from 36 to 42; Alberta from 28 to 34; Ontario, had 106, now 121, and Quebec 75, an addition of three.

People all over the world go through great difficulties in order to vote. It’s easy for us. Last federal election in 2011 only 61.1% of us made it to the polls; this time let’s hope we do better.