A tiny price to guard democracy - Keith Roulston editorial
When taken beside other news about the state of democracy, the news that only 43 per cent of eligible Ontario voters cast a ballot in last week’s provincial election is depressing.
The low voter turnout wasn’t exactly a surprise. Prior to election day, at least two commentators, including Rick Mercer, observed polls that showed young people, in particular, were uninvolved in the election. The situation was much wider than disinterest among young potential voters, of course. One story noted that Doug Ford will be Premier with a large minority when only 18 per cent of the potential voters supported him at the polls.
Some commentators and many potential voters took the easy way out and blamed the politicians for not conducting campaigns that got voters involved. They missed the point! The election was the one time in every four years that ordinary people have an opportunity – and an obligation – to shape the future of their province (or country, if it’s a federal election).
But democracy, one of the greatest gifts to modern, western citizens, seems in decline at the moment. Of the world’s three largest powers, only the U.S. remains a democracy. China has never really had a government where the ordinary citizen had an opportunity to choose its leaders. Russia had a brief moment of democracy after the fall of the Communist government, but it wasn’t long before people turned over more and more control to Vladimir Putin and his buddies and became a dictatorship again, even if voting is allowed (but any opponent likely to win political favour is jailed or assassinated).
Of the three major powers, only the U.S. remains a democracy, though the most-recent ex-president and many Republican politicians are trying their best to circumvent that. Even a year and a half after the last presidential election, former president Donald Trump continues to claim that he is the rightful president and that the Democrats somehow stole the election from him – even in Republican-governed states like Georgia.
Worse, Republican legislators in Washington, and many other states, are changing election rules to make it harder for those likely to vote for the Democrats to cast a ballot, and easier to reject their ballots if it will help a Republican to win.
This week, the House of Representatives committee that has held months of hearings, will begin unveiling the evidence of Trump’s attempts to encourage a coup in the U.S. that would have prevented the transfer of power following the November, 2020 presidential election and kept him in power in the U.S. Trump-supporting rioters attacked the Capitol building on Jan. 6, the day the House of Representatives was to hold a vote to confirm the election results. Some of them shouted to hang Mike Pence, the vice-president who was to chair the confirmation session, because he refused to go along with Trump’s wishes that he throw out the election results.
Meanwhile, south of the border the slaughter of innocent people goes on because legislators, most of them Republicans, continue to support gun manufacturers, despite polling that shows the vast majority of voters want simple restrictions, such as the ability to stop 18-year-olds from easily buying semi-automatic weapons created for the armed forces.
All the blame for the decline in democracy shouldn’t be reserved for those south of the border. Pierre Poilievre, leading candidate to lead the Conservative Party of Canada, supported people who occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks to protest against COVID-19 restrictions, even though they bullied local businesses, and the people who worked there, from doing their jobs.
Perhaps this is an age when democracy is taken too much for granted. I was born into a divided family, with a sister who was born prior to World War II, while I was the first post-war child of a father who risked his life in Italy and Holland to defend democracy and a mother who worked in a factory producing part of the Mosquito fighter-bomber. They were fighting Germany, a country that had once been a democracy but where the people willingly gave up this privilege to a dictator, at the cost of millions of lives.
I don’t think I have ever missed a chance to vote, the privilege drummed into me by parents who paid a terrible price to defend democracy. For them, both long dead now, the tiny cost of taking some time out of last week’s schedule to vote would have seemed such a tiny price to keep democracy alive compared to what they sacrificed.
I hope we’ll find a way to give the right to vote to choose our government its proper value before it’s too late.