Why Canadians voted early — and in droves

At an Elections Canada office in downtown Toronto, civic duty presents like something more of a mission

Darryl Dyck/CP

Darryl Dyck/CP

Actor Gordon Pinsent walked out of the Elections Canada office in downtown Toronto, Blue Jays cap in hand, without casting his ballot.
“I was hoping to get in there, but it’s going to be a long wait,” he says.

It’s lunchtime on the Tuesday before election day, and the voting station in Toronto Centre is buzzing with people. This morning, dozens of people come to vote by special ballot voting kit. The special kits have blank ballots and are designed to enable people to vote from outside their ridings. Anyone can vote by special ballot if he or she drops by an Elections Canada office, but Tuesday was the last day the option was available.

Undeterred, Pinsent says he’ll be back later that day to support the New Democrats. A week earlier, on Oct. 5, Pinsent appeared with leader Tom Mulcair for a campaign announcement on arts funding.

What you need to know to vote in the 2015 federal election campaign

More than 3.6 million Canadians cast their ballots during four days of advance polls on Thanksgiving weekend, up 71 per cent from three advance voting days in 2011.

Max Lafortune, 25, tried to vote on Oct. 9 before heading to Peterborough, Ont., for the weekend. After waiting an hour, and with 30 people ahead of him, he left so he wouldn’t miss his bus home.

He was back at the poll on Tuesday, copies of his bank statements in hand. He was worried that without government ID showing he’s a Torontonian, he wouldn’t be allowed to vote under Canada’s strict new voter identification law.

With his paperwork, Lafortune had no problem casting his ballot for the Liberal candidate in the riding, Bill Morneau. He decided on the Liberals after researching party platforms.

“My Facebook feed is just covered with anti-Harper propaganda and it’s really hard to discern what’s true and not true,” he said. Eventually, the Liberal economic platform won him over.

On his second try, it took him just 20 minutes to vote. “I empathize with people who are frustrated with the system, because it’s pretty archaic, but it’s our civil duty,” he says. “Ultimately, we all have a fair amount of complaining to do with politics, and if people aren’t voting, I really don’t think they have a right to complain.”

    After the earlier-than-expected Aug. 2 election call, Elections Canada had to find vacant offices in all 338 electoral districts. This one, located in a mid-rise office building on Bloor Street, is Elections Canada’s headquarters in Toronto Centre, which represents much of downtown Toronto. It has the aura of a makeshift hospital waiting room. Voters sit politely, waiting their turns, as a receptionist answers questions from a foldout table. “You just need some ID and a piece of mail with your address on it, sir,” she repeats into the phone.

    First-time voter Heather Kirkpatrick, 24, says she feels silly for not casting a ballot before now. “I’m not as political as I’d like to be, and I’m not as aware as I’d like to be on a lot of issues, but it’s something I’m working on in this election,” she says.

    Figure out where you stand in this election 

    Visiting for Thanksgiving from Nova Scotia, she didn’t know she could vote away from her riding until she accompanied a friend to an advance poll. While she was there, a volunteer explained she could vote at home by special ballot. So on Tuesday, from more than 1,000 km away, she cast her vote in West Nova’s race.

    Kirkpatrick spent an hour at the voting office on Tuesday because she let a few people who were in a rush go ahead of her. One of them was Nick Paragine. Though he was late to meet a friend, he paused to photograph a bright yellow Elections Canada sign as he jogged out of the office in his running gear. He said he would probably post the picture on Instagram to encourage his friends to vote.

    Gabrielle Carderelli, 75, has lived in Toronto Centre for about 35 years. For most of that time, the Liberals have represented the riding. MP Chrystia Freeland won in a 2013 by-election after interim leader Bob Rae retired. The riding was re-drawn for this election, so she’s now running in nearby University–Rosedale.

    Carderelli was voting early, as she’d be visiting her daughter in Montreal on Oct. 19. She wouldn’t reveal for whom she voted, but says of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, “Right now, what I’m ashamed of is the lack of compassion I see in my leader when people need help. Canada wasn’t like that before, so it stands out a lot.”

    She also dislikes politicians who underestimate voters’ intelligence. “They come up with [election promises] that will attract the masses as though we are not thinking people.”

    Perry Grant, 45, had the day off work, so he decided to come in. A long-time NDP supporter, he wasn’t daunted by his party’s drop in the polls. “There’s still a week to go and lots of campaigning,” he says. “It’ll be fun to watch and see what happens on election night.”