Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Citizenship on the Sidelines

Being on holiday has induced in me a certain mental torpor, so please forgive me if this post states the obvious. Those of us who write politically-oriented blogs are, of course, engaged intellectually and emotionally in the machinations of those we elect. And I suspect it is to our regular consternation and disappointment that more people do not recognize the vital role that the political realm plays in so many aspects of our lives, from the taxes we pay to the physical, social, and economic conditions in our cities, provinces, and the country as a whole. Failure to recognize those facts can lead us into some very dark situations.

While many many people have pointed out the flaws of our current first-past-the-post democracy, the larger problem, it has always seemed to me, is the failure of vast swaths of the population to even bother to vote. We all know, for example, that less than 40% of those who voted federally in 2011 had the power to elect a Harper majority. But perhaps a more current and even more telling illustration is the soap opera continuing to unfold in Toronto, one that had its genesis long before Rob Ford became its mayor, a result which has made Ontario's capital city the subject of international derision.

Was the election of Rob Ford a failure of our system? Obviously not. Those who voted for him had every right to choose as they did, as did the almost 50% who refused to vote. However, that latter choice, as the choice of almost 40% not to vote federally in 2011, means the we all have to endure the consequences of disengagement/citizen inertia.

These thoughts occurred to me upon reading a story in today's Star by Catherine Porter, in which she went to the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, described as the heart of Ford Nation. Porter went there soliciting comments about how the people feel about Ford, and the overwhelming majority 'stand by their man.' Unlike the right wing, which tends to be exceptionally intolerant of progressives, I say they have every right to feel as they do and to vote as they do.

But I guess you can see the problem I am getting at here. Diversity of view is great, but if one part of the electorate is active and engaged, even in policies and orientations with which we do not agree, and too many others just yawn, look the other way or go back to the latest in reality television, the larger society suffers. So please don't tell me there is no one to vote for or your vote doesn't count. That is only a self-fulfilling justification tantamount to an ignoble and deeply injurious abdication of the responsibilities of citizenship.


  1. As a noted psychologist said decades ago, Lorne, not to choose is to choose -- badly.

    1. Very true Owen. I guess that I would like to see people fully cognizant of that truth, however, before falling back on the usual bromides to justify their political indifference.