“People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote — a very different thing.”
— Walter H. Judd (1898-1994), American physician, commentator, politician
After hearing that the Liberals held a party after the leaders debate to celebrate Kevin Aylward’s self-proclaimed victory, I wondered what size of a bash they’d throw if Yvonne Jones ever wanted the Liberal leadership back.
I thought Kathy Dunderdale summed up the debate nicely with her quip:
“Mr. Aylward, your slogan is, ‘We can do better.’ You could hardly do worse, sir.”
And it’s too bad, because the Liberals have some decent candidates, Jones chief among them.
But no one — aside from the perennially partisan John Efford — can seriously say that Aylward shone. And that’s even if you can get past some niggling truths, such as the fact that Aylward double billed the government for thousands of dollars back when he was a Liberal cabinet minister, and was one of the power brokers who forbade the auditor general to examine the House of Assembly’s books,
At the debate, he seemed sullen and unprepared. He tried to claim, nonsensically, that Dunderdale is on the one hand running the province with Stephen Harper as her co-pilot, yet is unable to get the PM on the phone.
Ironically, Aylward seemed to mimic Harper’s awkward behaviour during the federal leaders debate, by responding to his opponent while looking, instead, straight at the TV camera.
He tried to dismiss Liberal candidate Danny Dumaresque’s divisive comments pitting rural Newfoundland against St. John’s at a previous debate as his candidate “getting excited” about issues.
He was at a loss at times when asked by NDP Leader Lorraine Michael to outline his party’s plan, and he accused Michael of having had more time to prepare than he did, since he only got back into the political ring two months ago.
Michael retorted: “Your party had the same amount of time.”
All in all, it was a bit of sport in an election campaign that so far has had all the flavour and texture of cafeteria-issue vanilla pudding.
But as much as we enjoy a bit of entertainment, elections aren’t meant to be “Gladiator.”
It may be fun to see one politician take another’s argument and turn it on its ear — and I enjoy clever banter as much as the next person — but elections are serious business, not sport.
Watching a debate gives you an opportunity to see how quick — or leaden — leaders are on their feet, how prepared they are, how knowledgeable about the issues. But that spectacle should only be a blip on voters’ radar.
Instead, we need to decide what matters to us and demand that candidates take a stand on those issues.
And, most of all, we have to vote.
In a paper he presented at the Canadian Political Science Association annual meeting in Montreal last year, Jared J. Wesley of the University of Manitoba explored voter turnout in Canadian politics.
“Turnout in Newfoundland and Labrador has fluctuated more than in any other Canadian province,” he noted.
In fact, we’ve gone from setting a Canadian record for provincial participation in 1971 (roughly 88 per cent voter turnout) to, in 2007, recording the second lowest voter turnout in this province since Confederation, with 61 per cent.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not a distinction I’m proud of.
No matter what your political stripe is, you should be concerned that a majority government was elected in this province last time by only 42.6 per cent of eligible voters.
In voting, you make your voice heard, whether it joins with others to become the loudest voice or not. It lets you make clear who you trust the most to spend your hard-earned tax dollars and to make choices about the programs and services you need.
Jared Wesley noted, “lower rates of voter turnout may be a symptom, not of the poor health of a democracy, but the tacit approval by non-voters of the status quo.”
But doing nothing is a little like handing your paycheque over to someone else and not giving a whit how they spend it.
Is that good enough for you?
The ballot box is the ultimate equalizer; your vote is as good as mine, mine has as much weight as that of a seasoned Supreme Court judge or an 18-year-old voting rookie.
You often hear people say that they don’t expect their candidate to win, so to vote is only a waste of time.
Tell that to the women of Saudi Arabia, who last week were told that in 2015, they will be allowed to vote and run for election for the first time in their history.
Do you think they’ll stay home out of apathy or ignorance or indifference on voting day? Somehow, I don’t think commentators will be chattering about low voter turnout in Riyadh.
“We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society,” King Abdullah was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story.
So why are so many of us willing to marginalize our own role in determining how our province is run?
Get out and vote in this election. Have a say in your own future. Give a damn.
The only wasted vote is one not cast.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s
story editor. She can be reached by email