Contrary to the main narrative in the media this past weekend, the longest-ever election campaign in modern Canadian history was not launched by the Prime Minister’s speech on Sunday. It was just the moment when the longest-ever election in Canadian history entered a new phase. The election has been going on since the day of the first ham-fisted “He’s Just Not Ready / Nice Hair” video. We have now just entered a new phase of enhanced advertising, before the post-Labour-Day orgiastic full-court-press.
All along, you will be encouraged to vote for change or to stay the course; for the good of your children, for the good of your job; to protect yourself from terrorists or taxes or something called the TPP. I am not going to discourage you from voting for whatever is important to you, but I will suggest that voting on October 19th is the least effective thing you can do for democracy this election.
Your vote will be one of the 15,000,000 cast in October. It may even be one of the handful that swings a riding one way or another, but it is more than likely going to be lost in the crowd. Your chosen candidate will win or lose your riding by thousands of votes*, and it is only through accumulating those vote gaps of thousands across the country that we will determine who gets to make choices that impact your life, taxes, and the future of the planet.
Yes, the end of that previous sentence underlies the reason why you should vote, but it also emphasizes why you should do more than just vote.
Here are the three things you should be doing before October 19, all of which will be more important than voting on October 19.
1: Inform yourself. 15 Million people voted last election, but almost 10 Million who were eligible to vote chose not to. The most commonly cited reason for this mass disenfranchisement is that it doesn’t matter. That sounds vaguely like my initial point, but it is strikingly different: election results matter.
I have no doubt that Canada would have gone in a different direction domestically, regionally, and internationally if Michael Ignatieff or Jack Layton had become Prime Minister in 2011, or even if Stephen Harper was forced by minority status to find support across the floor. People who say “elections don’t matter” are cowardly avoiding the issue, and are shirking their responsibility to inform themselves about the issues in their community and their nation.
Informing yourself is hard. You need to get out of your echo chamber and hear opinions that disagree with your opinions, or even your deeply held convictions. The Social Media encourages these echo chambers, these individual bubbles, where you are so drowned by self-supporting noise that you can’t hear anything else. Two perfect examples from my Twitter Stream today:
The elections is going to be filled with this kind of hyperbole and ridiculosity**, and you have to filter past that stuff and try to find the core of the ideas. You also have to get past “I’ll never vote for X, because I’ll never vote for X” type of tautology, and understand what you are voting for. Do the policies offered by the Parties approach your concerns in different ways? What do independent organizations say about those approaches? What are the built-in biases of those independent organizations? Perhaps more effectively: What other nations have been more or less successful at dealing with these issues, and which Party’s proposed policies closest match those successful nations’ approaches?
Yeah, this seems like a long approach, but we have an 11-week campaign, you have the entire world’s database of knowledge at your fingertips. Who knows what you might learn along the line. And you might just find a reason to vote.
2: Get Involved If you think you know the issues, and know how you want to vote, the biggest thing you can do is help your chosen candidate. Campaigns are run on money and volunteer energy, and you can provide both.
You can donate up to $1,500 to your chosen candidate, and for every candidate you would like to support, you can give each of them up to $1,500. Political donations qualify for tax credits, as well, so you get a chunk of them back in the spring with your income taxes. Donate up to $400, and you get 75% of it back in your tax return, regardless of your income level. Donate $1,500 and you get $650 back.
Volunteering is even more important. You can walk down to the local campaign office and there are any of a thousand tasks you can help with. You might be able to work the phones, collect and manage data, help coordinate other volunteers, go door-to-door with a candidate, manage data, stuff envelopes, deliver and construct lawn signs, bake cookies, sharpen pencils, drive a person to the polls… there are a million little tasks that take a bit of human help.
3: Spread the word Decided you are going to vote? Informed yourself on the issues, and chose your preferred candidate? Tell people about it, and take someone with you to the polls! We live in an era of social media where it has never been easier to spread and share ideas. If you like a candidate enough to vote for her, you probably like her enough to tell people why, in the hopes they also will vote for her. The best way to make your vote count more is to take a half a dozen people to the poll booth with you! Car pool, go for coffee or beer after.
So vote, because you can and because you should. There is a tiny chance it will shift a riding, or the fate of the nation, but more likely your favourite will win or lose by thousands of votes – one of them may as well be yours. The only way you are sure to win is if you get informed and get involved in the election, because you will be living and learning and taking part in this messy democracy of ours. And who knows where that will take you?