On Campus

Don't tell me non-voters can't complain!

Prof. Pettigrew on why he'd rather not vote

Parliament Buildings aurinkosanoo/Flickr

It’s democracy week, and that means that democracy enthusiasts have revved up for that heady mix of hand-wringing, admonishment, and cheerleading that characterizes all such events.

Read this next: political scientist Max Cameron on why there aren’t more good people in politics.

So forgive me for saying so, but the only thing I’m more sick of than being told how important it is that I vote, is voting.  People like me tend to remain unheard at times like this, so I’m weighing in on behalf of those who don’t vote or would rather not vote, and responding to the well-meant clichés that we hear so much of these days.

Cliché 1. If you don’t vote, you don’t have any right to complain.

Nonsense. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees my right to complain and access to charter rights is not dependent on whether one voted or not.

Okay, maybe I’m being too literal here. Perhaps what is meant is that if you want political leaders you like, then vote for them, otherwise you’re stuck with whatever morons get elected. But why should I have to participate in the selection process just to avoid forfeiting my expectation for competence and integrity?

I don’t vote for judges, but I expect them to do their jobs well. Ditto for police and a host of other public officials. Do I have to join the PTA or resign myself to bad teachers?

I do my job to the best of my ability because I know it matters and I want to contribute. Can’t I expect the same of legislators?

By the way, cliché 1 implies that non-citizens in Canada have no right to complain. Shame!

Cliché 2. If you think all parties are the same, you aren’t paying attention.

In fact, I have been paying attention. It’s paying attention that’s made me so pessimistic. I read the news every single day, and I never see anything going on in government that’s worthy of the leaders of a great democracy.

All of the arguments I see are over minutia of economic policy. How many jobs? Which taxes on which people? This is not leadership. It’s management.

Still worse, pay attention for a while and you will see that none of these policy choices seem to come out of a genuine vision of how a civilized country should function. It’s all a matter of polling, and branding, and demographics. It’s name calling, and scandal mongering and positioning, and pandering.

They may all clothe themselves in different sheeps’ clothing, but they’re all the same wolf underneath.

Cliché 3. If you don’t vote, you aren’t doing your civic duty.

It’s been said that the worst slave owners were the ones who treated their slaves well, because they made it easier for people to excuse a bad system. In the same way, the worst thing we can do for our democracy at this stage may well be to participate in it.

Our outdated first-past-the-post system is a joke. Just ask Quebec voters who are now stuck with a separatist government despite the fact that fewer than a third of duteous citizens voted for the PQ. Modest efforts at reform have been made, but so far, the public has been too conservative to care or simply unwilling or unable to understand even a simple reform like a mixed-member proportional parliament.

I do believe in civic duty. And I think that a vote is sacred. So sacred, in fact, that I don’t want to waste it on today’s politicians or yesterday’s system.

Give me politicians worth voting for, and a system worth voting in, and I’ll vote. Until then, stop looking down your nose at those of use who are holding ours.

Todd Pettigrew teaches English at Cape Breton University. Have a comment? Share it below.