Every election season, this newspaper and many other media outlets, civic organizations, business groups, and unions urge you to go cast a ballot.
Voting is indeed important. It’s a right, one that many hundreds of millions of people around the world don’t have.
You don’t have to vote for someone you think will do the best job – you are perfectly within your rights to dislike every choice on the ballot, and to vote only so the one you dislike the most doesn’t get elected!
But, as the nation approaches election day, we should also remind people that voting is not the beginning or the end of democracy.
Most of the hard work and struggle of democracy happens between elections.
That’s when people have another right, the right to make themselves heard.
We have the right to protest, to write and email and petition our MPs, to organize advocacy groups, to push for the repeal or amendment of old laws or the creation of new ones.
Election platforms are great, but in Canadian history, not one political party has managed to keep every single promise it made.
That’s not always bad – some of those promises ran aground on the shores of reality, and were better not kept. Others were overtaken by history. Many of the most important and valuable pieces of legislation in our history were not on any party’s list of pledges when the election was called – the government was pushed into acting by public pressure.
And sometimes, of course, there are crisis points that couldn’t have been foreseen. Humanity is living through one right now. It’s already resulted in changes to law and policy that will continue to have effects for a generation, and that’s true across almost every democracy on the planet.
Former prime minister Kim Campbell was once (mis)quoted as saying that elections were no time to discuss serious issues. There was some truth to that – it’s not a great time for nuance or negotiation, and both of those are necessary when crafting legislation that could affect millions of Canadians.
If Canadians can’t talk about serious issues during the election, they’ll have to do it after the election. And by “talk,” we mean doing the day-to-day work of democracy.
That means citizens taking the lead over politicians – pushing them to keep the best of their promises and then go further, and do better still.