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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

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October 2, 2003
 Student View

Kick the tires

 

Katie Norman
Katie Norman

Politics is an integral part of every Canadian citizen’s life. From public policy on television content, to homosexual marriage legislation, to renegotiating Newfoundland’s terms of Confederation, the actions of politicians at the three levels of government have an influence on our society. Municipal city councillors, members of the House of Assembly and the Prime Minister are just some of the actors in our system.

For the most part, the citizens of this country have the ability to provide the executive with power through the vote, either directly or indirectly. While exceptions do exist, such as in the case of the governor general and senators, upon turning 18 all Canadians have the right to vote for and elect politicians for all levels of government. This upcoming provincial election will be my first opportunity to exercise this right and I have been spending some time trying to see where my political ideals are best expressed.

In Newfoundland’s political scene the three major parties each offer a distinct ideology. From leftist New Democrats, to the Progressive Conservatives on the right and the Liberals floating somewhere in the centre, ideologically it seems that most people who subscribe to the concept of a liberal democracy have an option of a somewhat similar representative in government.

Yet there are often blurred areas where a party follows what seems to be public opinion instead of a more traditional stance for the party. This leaves us with muddled categories where charismatic authority seems to be overpowering legal authority. Thus we are presented with the idea of “voting for the person not the party.” In between these major parties are smaller players; such as independent candidates and smaller parties, like the Green Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.

While not always clear-cut, there are a variety of options for all voters, yet many young people are choosing not to vote.

Voter turnout in Canada is currently resting at around 60 per cent, according to statistics from IDEA (The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance). Yet apathy should not be seen simply as ignorance towards politics, as this trend is evident in other first world countries, such as the United Stated and the United Kingdom. The poor turnouts may be attributed however, to the confusion felt by new voters on how to choose a candidate. Often young voters are unsure of the best party to represent their opinions and values. In fact there is no obvious answer to this problem. The only solution is to read party publications and speak with the candidates in the electoral riding one resides in.

Skepticism about election platforms is another reason that many people may choose not to vote. The common phrase is “ ‘So and so’ will get in again, so I’m not even bothering to vote.” This statement illustrates the feelings of disconnection many citizens have towards the voting process.

Recently however, governments have been proposing new legislation to market their policies towards a younger audience. Tuition freezes and non-discriminatory car insurance are two of the major policies have been presented by the current Grimes government as youth-oriented strategies. While both offer benefits to youth, one might question why such policies are being presented. The conspiracy theorist in me would be likely to say – to encourage votes in the upcoming election. These tactics are not only applied by the current administration but are a common trend in democracies; the placement of favourable bills and policies on the table just before elections.

In an economic view one must market the goods to increase the demand to maintain the supply. This analogy can be easily applied to politics and elections. It is a business, the business of governance.

These new presentations may draw out record numbers to the polls this year, yet everyone knows better than to predict election results. After all many of us live in a city where a city councillor was elected despite passing away during elections. Some call it a vote of respect but I would say it is a lack of interest in updates in politics. Those that vote often remain true to certain people and certain parties and perhaps this is the reason that Dorothy Wyatt was elected post-mortem. The problem is that many youth are not creating a connection to the political culture of our society.

Is there a easy solution to this problem? I would gander a guess at no. The only way to ensure a higher turnout is to get out and vote yourself.

As the provincial election looms over postsecondary students’ heads and the heads of all Newfoundland citizens I suggest this – vote as if you are buying a new car. Choose the best overall product – don’t buy a motorcycle if what you need is a minivan. Following friends and voting in blocks may seem harmless, but it is likely we will all be doing this for awhile. I am choosing to vote according to current needs and I won’t be afraid to change my vote for the next election, if my assumptions turn out to be incorrect.

 


 

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Next issue: October 16, 2003

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