Letter to the future past

Michael Johansen
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Dear future self,            How’s it going? How long has it been: five, six, seven days? The provincial election’s tomorrow and you (we?) won’t be reading this until Saturday, or maybe Monday (darned newspaper deadlines), so I hope you’re well and happy.

I have an important question for you. No, not that. I know I’ll still have all my hair. What I need to know is, how did I vote? One day before polls open and I can’t decide. If you could tell me, it would save me a lot of stress.

Sorry, but I’m not sure how you’ll get your answer to me, you being from the future and all. You could give it to your own future self, but that won’t do me much good. Try finding a time machine to send a message to me in, let’s say, three seconds … nope, nothing. Maybe the machine needs calibrating. I’ll wait.

In the meantime, let me explain why this is a difficult election. Three words: fixed voting date. This is a recent innovation introduced by politicians to solve a problem only they perceive. Unfortunately, they might like the cure, but it’s the voters who suffer the unintended side effects.

The voting day may be fixed, but the unofficial start-of-campaigning date is now free to arrive at any time — days, weeks and eventually maybe even years before the officially sanctioned start-of-campaign. Why even drop a writ?

Eventually, Canada will become like the United States, with perpetual campaigns that tax the abilities of citizens to stay interested in the political process.

Under our former parliamentary system, governments needed a reason to call an election. It wasn’t enough for them to just want to maintain or increase their hold on power. More was expected of them.

If a government dissolved Parliament without a pressing need, without important issues to put in front of the electorate, voters had been known to punish them. Now a reason is unnecessary, so governments can go into elections with nothing to discuss or resolve — at least, nothing they want to discuss or resolve.

Sure, me, there are issues in this election, but the election itself is not about the issues. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be about anything at all except … well, it doesn’t seem to be about anything at all.

That would make the choice simple if there were only two parties running, since the process of elimination would therefore be very easy, but in this riding (like in most) there are three candidates. I can eliminate one without much trouble, but the next step confounds me. So, I ask you again, future self: how did we vote?

Since our system makes it almost impossible for a citizen’s vote to actually achieve what the citizen desires, a person might be tempted to not vote at all. Increasingly, it looks like the safest choice. We have three main parties in an electoral system that reflects democracy only if two candidates are vying for a seat. More and more, in every election with three or four candidates, it seems the greater the support the opposition earns, the more likely the government will win by default. Given this unlucky country’s recent electoral history, that probably means the opposing candidates will split the majority vote and vault the odd man out to power with less than half of the ballots cast — maybe even with as little as 39 per cent of them.

Now, in this election, if I don’t want to choose Candidate A (let me cite issues just this once to explain that the government man wants to destroy one of Labrador’s priceless natural treasures and I disapprove), I must vote for either Candidate B or Candidate C. I must try to determine which of them has the best chance of getting to the post before the apparent frontrunner. Unfortunately, B and C are of comparable worth and so both might attract a considerable and roughly equal number of anti-government votes.

So, future me, help yourself. Help me! How did I make sure my vote actually counted for something? There must be some way.

Please tell me I figured out what it was.

Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Cyril Rogers
    October 15, 2011 - 14:24

    Mr. Johansen...your dilemma was shared by many people in the province this past week. The polls didn't help and many were having a difficult time knowing how to vote in a stategic way. It was obvious that quite a few seats were up for grabs, despite the favourable polling for the PC's but, like you, many people did not want to vote in such a way as to allow the PC's to go up the middle. In fact they did, in several districts, and the outcome could have been much closer were it not for that fact. Granted, they also lost a couple of seats due to the split but I would submit that these seasts would have gone Liberal or NDP anyway, if a run-off vote were permitted. This brings me to the issue of electoral reform. Given that the Tories won 77% of the seats with only 56% of the popular vote on their side, we must advocate for some type of reform. They got the actual support of roughly 30% of the actual eligible voters and that makes the outcome all the more unfair. With the cavalier attitude toward democracy shown by Ms Dunderdale after the election, it is evident that democracy was not well-served in this instance. With a critical decision like Muskrat Falls left to a dictatorial party like the Tories we will be in serious financial trouble if they plough ahead. In deference to your concerns, I am also feeling more and more unhappy with the damming of that beautiful river. Other more-environmentally benign options are available at far less cost and with a greener outcome.