British Columbia is known to the rest of the country for three things, mainly: wonderful wilderness, wacky tobacky (marijuana growing and consuming), and wacky politics. We even had a premier back in the 1950's whom everyone called Wacky Bennett and seem always to be dealing with some scandal, fiasco or nail-biting bi-election. We had yet another full-on demonstration of the wackiness of our politics this week, in that, despite polls all pointing to a majority government being formed by one party, when it came down to it, not only did the far-ahead-in-the-polls government lose the election, they even lost several seats in the legislature to candidates from the opposing party. Everyone shook their heads at the result, even the winning party themselves couldn't believe it, and the next day, every type of media available was attempting to unravel the mystery of the Bizarre Provincial Election of 2013. And we are still all talking about it, many of us in mourning for the death of our hopes for a new government to replace the present one who have, from the perspective of many, done enough damage, thank you very much.
One of the main topics of conversation around the proverbial water cooler is the percentage of the electorate who voted, or more accurately, didn't vote. Only 52% of eligible voters took the time and opportunity to mark a ballot and have their vote counted. Apparently, according to some statistics I read this week, in 1983 70% of the electorate voted and the numbers have been sliding ever since. Theories as to why this is the case abound, as well as ideas of what to do about it. I find the numbers disheartening. Here we are in a democratic country where no one has to risk their lives to vote, where women can vote, where one's local candidates will find a ride for you to the voting station, and where every effort is made to make voting easy and convenient - although one cannot, as yet, vote on a smartphone in between updating one's Facebook status - and yet nearly half of eligible voters still refuse to exercise their democratic right to help choose their next representative in the capital, Victoria, a city celebrating all things Victorian this Victoria Day weekend.
I wonder just what it is that causes so many not to vote. Is it a feeling of disconnection? Is it a 'none of the above' response to the available candidates? Is it due to sense of helplessness in the grand scheme of things? Is it laziness? Anarchy? Anti-government sensibilities? Ignorance as to what it is our Members of the Legislative Assembly actually do in Victoria? I wish there was a way to find out why people don't vote, and a better way to engage voters. I really don't think the television commercials and endless messages via social media are doing it, not because TV and social media are not effective tools of communication, but that somehow, the parties go about promoting themselves in the wrong way. One of our parties, the Liberals, chose the attack ad route, resorting to placing a cut-out of the New Democratic Party's leader on a weather vane which moved back and forth to show his apparent 'shift with the wind' policies, and dragging out a long-forgiven forged memo from back in the mid-nineties. The New Democrats decided to run a clean campaign with no attack ads, only somewhat bland commercials showing nicely dressed, smiling folks planting flowers and hiking in the forest with their children and saying, "I'm ready for a change in government," without really pinpointing what that change would look like, specifically. As for the other parties, The Conservatives and The Green Party, along with several independents, they apparently lacked the funds for TV and YouTube spots apart from the televised debate which many analysts say was the turning point in the election. The Green Party ended up with a seat in the Legislature for the very first time, and our Premier actually lost her seat to an NDP candidate. She will now have to convince another winning MLA to give up his or her seat so she can enter the Legislature. Her party, however, did win the election overall, with a resounding lead. Did the attack ads work? Or were people just listening too much to the polls and became apathetic about the other parties actually needing their vote? It is very hard to say, and each party's representatives have convincing arguments to support their point of view.
On election night I heard one analyst say that "this election will be studied in universities and books will be written about it." The result was certainly unexpected, but by now, we in British Columbia should expect the unexpected when it comes to our politics. The sun will go on rising and setting no matter which party is in power, but if 48% of us are not voting, we need an overhaul of the system, or societal attitudes for that matter, because the issues at stake are huge for us all. Jobs, the environment, stagnating inflation, education, rising medical costs, child poverty, increased homelessness, disenfranchised youth, funding for arts, culture and heritage (okay, maybe we don't all care about that, but I do!) - how can anyone say they are not personally affected by the decisions made by a bunch of suits in Victoria? How can anyone say their vote does not matter? If only 52% of us vote, how can an election not have some elements of a farcical comedy?
Have a lovely weekend, all! It's a nice, long one here. The above photo of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria is from The Georgia Straight publication. Looks a bit stormy, doesn't it?