Despite how important elections are to a functioning democracy, many Canadians will abstain from the 2011 General Election. Because we are socialised to believe that one vote doesn't count, voter turnout in Canada has been on decline since the end of the Second World War. There are many who contend that there is absolutely nothing wrong with voter apathy and this unnerves me. The problem is that the majority of citizens who do not vote are people who belong to a group that is marginalised somehow in our society, whether because of language, age, gender, ethnicity, religion or many other identity markers.
This upcoming election may well be one of the most pivotal in decades, although there are many voices in national media, in business, and of course the Harper Government, who suggest otherwise. The spectre of a coalition is framed as "dangerous". Naturally, it is completely untrue that coalitions are bad. Not only are coalition governments the status quo in many countries around the world, when polled most Canadians have called for more cooperation on Parliament Hill. I can't say that I am surprised by Harper, as he has consistently shown that he doesn't expect the average Canadian voter to be informed. Can he seriously deflect answers and still expect votes?
Ultimately, there are many messages that can be sent with the upcoming election. Whether through increased participation or a vote for a political party that will roll back neoliberal reforms, numbers are important. Elections are not the start or end of phases of democracy in a society; they are simply moments in an ongoing project where issues come before the people for discussion. Harper has made it clear that he doesn't respect the democratic institutions of our nation. Take, for instance, transparency. Even though the Conservatives have only held a minority, there has never, in the history of Canadian democracy, been a federal government who has been more secretive and opaque. When charged by opposition leaders about failing to be transparent, Harper's response was that Parliament is nothing more than an inconvenience to getting things done, playing on a stereotype that many Canadians have of politicians as "bickering".
A Conservative majority, therefore, has the potential for dictatorial rule by shutting down avenues of dissent against the government - and that is extremely undemocratic. Keep in mind that Harper also wants you to vote and then forget about politics until the next election. I think that Harper says it most clearly when he mentioned at the English Language Debate that he wants no more Canadian elections in the near future, claiming that elections are expensive and not good for our economy. Moreover, elections help to shape the framework for discourse until the next election. A Conservative minority has proven an ineffective place to bring up questions, such as gender equality, and until there is a change in the makeup of Parliament many critical concerns will continue to be ignored.
An important question that voters need to ask is "how we want to construct our future?" If you don't know, or aren't satisfied with the information you've been given, then familiarising yourself with the myriad issues both debated and ignored is the most important place to start. If you feel comfortable, engage friends and family in a conversation about where they stand on issues - and challenge yourself and others to dig deeper.
In the end, if you don't feel at the end of it all that there is a party that you want to vote for, don't retreat from politics - get involved in other ways. Volunteer for causes that mean something to you, get involved in lobbying, try to change the electoral system, or focus on politics at more local levels. There are many options to make change happen - don't delude yourself into thinking that voting is the be all end all. I hope that every Canadian will take some time to uncover what they believe in and follow it, because there is a lot riding on this election.