Editorial: Democracy not just about voting

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By: Korie Marshall, Editor

There’s been a debate going on in Ontario appeal courts, and in federal government for some years now, about whether Canadians living abroad should be able to vote in Canadian elections. It seems to have focused a lot on a Canadian citizen’s charter rights, the “social contract” between citizens and our government, and how close a person’s connection is to Canada.

I often like to think of things in more practical terms. For example, if someone who hasn’t lived in Canada for more than 5 years is allowed to vote in Canadian elections, which MP or MLA do they vote for? Which riding? In provincial and federal elections, we can only vote for one MP – in the riding we’ve lived in for a certain amount of time. Would there be a riding for people who live outside of Canada? There is apparently about a million of them though only about 6,000 voted in the 2011 election. Imagine the road trips those MLA’s and MP’s would go on.

In municipal elections it’s different – you can vote where you live, but some municipalities like ours allow B.C. residents who own property to vote, even if they don’t live here. Property usually needs to be in a person’s name, not a business, but if a person was really inclined, one could possibly vote in any number of municipal elections. That won’t skew any single election because any single person still only has one vote in one election, and there isn’t party or caucus connections between municipalities or with higher levels of government.

Imagine if one person could vote in multiple provincial or federal ridings, because they owned property in each of them.

But here is the thing – in federal and provincial elections, it’s not property owners who get to vote, its citizens. It doesn’t matter how much property you own, you are still just one person, one voice. Each of us is equal. I think many people who have been living here for a long time, but have not yet obtained Canadian citizenship, should be able to vote, because they are very much affected by the laws made by those we vote in. They don’t. So I don’t think those who have lived abroad for more than a year (even if they plan on coming back) should get to vote either.

But voting is not the only way to participate in democracy, or to affect your community. Voting day only comes around every so often, and for years in between, the people you voted for (or didn’t vote for) are going to be making decisions for you. It’s up to each of us to pay attention to those decisions, and the impacts they have. It’s up to us to talk to each other in constructive ways about those decisions, or potential decisions, so we can really understand them, and share our thoughts with our government at all levels. It is up to us to seek out the truth about the reasons behind the decisions, to ensure they are being made in a fair and unbiased way. To me, that is the real democracy.

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