Friday, April 6, 2018

Lifeblood For A Moribund Democracy?

By any measure, I think it is safe to say that ours is not a healthy and vital democracy. One only has to look at election turnout statistics to see ready proof.
In the last two elections, barely half of Ontarians bothered to cast a ballot — an embarrassing 48 per cent voted in 2011, and a dispiriting 51 per cent turned out in 2014.
Federally, the last election saw increased turnout, but that was only due to the lofty but ultimately largely empty rhetoric of Justin Trudeau, who attracted the youth vote, a topic I will return to momentarily.

While the virus of demagoguery is most readily apparent in the United States, Canadians are hardly immune. One has only to look, for example, at the Toronto mayoralty of the late Rob Ford, the crack-smoking bad boy who many voters could not get enough of.

And of course now, in Ontario, many are predicting that his brother, Doug, will be the next premier, despite the fact that he will not allow media on his campaign bus and is skipping out on the first leaders' debate on April 11. His strategy seems to be to speak in generalities (finding new efficiencies - where, oh where, have we heard that one before?) promising everything to everyone, and at a very attractive cost - none. And on top of that, he promises to lower taxes.

What is the cure, or at least an effective treatment, for this rash of nonsense? Perhaps it lies in lowering the voting age to 16. Lance Copegog, one of those 16-year-olds, writes:
It is a shame that voters in Ontario do not cherish their democratic right to vote.

Liberal MPP Arthur Potts, who represents the Toronto riding of Beaches—East York, introduced a private members bill that proposes the voting age be lowered from 18 to 16 in provincial elections.
His arguments have a compelling quality as he looks at youth activism:
First Nations-led youth councils are holding the government to account on its promises to Indigenous people in Ontario, young activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are advocating for systemic change, and many others are making a difference in their communities.

Most young people do not deny that climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. The action that we take now will determine our very survival.
As well, Copegog takes encouragement from what young people are doing in the U.S.
The activism of the survivors of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting demonstrate that today’s young people are articulate, courageous, and passionate. Their activism saw them go head-to-head with the National Rifle Association and Senator Marco Rubio, a darling of the gun lobby.
I can see additional advantages to lowering the voting age. At 16, most are still in school, a wonderful venue to engage meaningfully on today's vital issues, promote discussion and foster some critical thinking amongst peers.

Voting at 16, whether through peer pressure or increased awareness, would likely further the chances of electoral participation as a lifelong habit.

Finally, such youth engagement might shame their indolent, disengaged parents into the same participation.

In his column today, Tim Harper offers sundry reasons for increased participation by young people who already have the right to vote, millenials:
They prefer government spending over balanced budgets (understood by Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne), don’t believe corporations pay their fair share of taxes, don’t believe income inequality has been properly addressed and are more comfortable with big interventionist government.

They also want to see action on climate change, policies to lift people out of poverty and they back a more open immigration system.
Those very issues resonate with younger people as well. Theirs is a broken world that they will have to contend with far longer than someone of my generation will.

Why shouldn't they have a voice?


  1. We don't lower the voting age because people, of your age and mine, Lorne, fear they might upset our privilege by demanding a bit of generational justice. And we maintain our privilege by showing up at the polls.

    1. I think you and I, Mound, both understand that ours is a way of life that is quickly passing away. Because of that, we both realize that the empowerment of the young must trump our own sense of privilege.

  2. Lorne, I agree with lowering the voting age as these are the people most affected by what government does today for the future.
    however I believe more strongly that the last vote you cast should be at age 50 because the majority of 50+ voters are entrenched their thinking and will only vote for 1 party anyway. a good example are the old PC voters that kept Harper in power yet not understanding what the new Conservative party actually stood for.
    the main effect of ending the vote at 50 would be reducing core party support for all parties below 10% leaving 70% up for grabs which means all the parties would actually have to stand up and produce a real platform to attract those voters. this would mean an end to the circus in parliament we have today and a return to 4 or 5 decades ago when debate was about real issues.

    1. Yours is a very provocative suggestion, Bill, and your point about entrenched voting habits is a good one. However, I like to think that people who are truly engaged in their society always have something to contribute to it. Despite the many older people who have become ossified, there are still others who grow and change over the years.

  3. .. I don't think we have any idea of the extent of vote suppression. Stephen Harper escaped with his political life from the Great Election Fraud.. and the erasure of login files of the now laughably named 'Nation Builder' voter database.. Of course we have moved on.. now we have Donald Trump to ridicule and a fool named Andrew Scheer here in Canada eh.

    But the dark games, grooming and electoral assault is just more clever than ever.. The 'party system' is so twisted.. whipped voting, you name it, candidates mysteriously dropping out..

    By the way, has anyone spotted Rick Dykstra or Patrick Brown recently? Or were they abducted by aliens ? These are people who purport to be uh 'leaders'

    1. Actually, Sal, I did see Brown briefly interviewed on TV the other night. He as captioned as an "independent MPP."

      The problem you describe here is something that the idealism and passion of youth could ably take on, in my view. Their B.S. detectors seem especially acute these days.

  4. Then again, what if it turned out all they wanted was a cheaper smartphone plan?

  5. I understand why many feel that today's youth will not turn out to be enthusiastic supporters of democracy. Nonetheless, if there is hope for the future, it is in their hands.

    1. If they can realize their true power, Owen, they may accomplish a great deal.