Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Citizens and Elections

Sometimes Journalists
Speaking of Voting
Speaking of Elections
They Knew Back in Classical Times
About Polling Stations

Sometimes journalists have a vested interest in not reporting the news. For example, five years ago, during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, an Alberta-based women’s hockey team, right after the final game, celebrated winning olympic gold by publicly popping a bottle of champagne… even though some “girls” were under the legal drinking age, being only 18 years old. As I recall, the “news” took up several paragraphs—and no one wanted to spoil a good story by reporting that in Alberta “women” can drink at age 18: not at 19 as in some more populated parts of Canada. 

And here in Alberta, incidentally, you can get your learners driving permit at 14. (Probably so you can drive around the edge of your big family farm—while in other provinces it’s 16) Voting in Alberta starts at 18. The legal age of citizenship, with voting and jury service—which creates our binding case law—is not something I take lightly.

Speaking of voting, reporters are doing stories on Canadians overseas, ex-patriots, who are offended they can’t vote. A man in California says angrily, (Globe and Mail, Oct 10, 2015) “This is something I believe is wrong—it should be citizenship over residency.” Emotion makes for good news stories. What the journalists leave out, of course, is the 40,000 “prostitutes” in Lebanon. No one even knew those “Canadians” were there until less than ten years ago when Israel suddenly invaded. Then they demanded the Canadian government get them out, tout suite.

I think “real” Canadians would have known our federal government just isn’t that capable.

I called them prostitutes—they certainly weren’t there as tourists—because they had hardened their hearts, pretending to love us, but actually only using us, getting Canadian citizenship as a fire exit in case the Israelis ever invaded.

I truly don’t believe they are raising their blessed children to believe that Canadian values, such as universal human rights and the Charter, are more important than the surrounding values of the Middle East. As Canadian reporters would know, some years back the province of Ontario was flirting with bringing in sharia (Arab) law, but only for Muslim-Canadians. (Perhaps people thought of how aboriginals can achieve justice with sentencing circles on reservations) The difference, to me, is that sharia is not just. My lawyer friend Blair was outraged at sharia. He would never have voted for it. I have no enthusiasm for 40,000 prostitutes participating in our elections.

Speaking of elections, in mid-elementary school we studied how elections worked. Looking back, perhaps this was because we lived in interesting times: This was during the years when new countries in Africa and Asia, having freshly achieved independence from Europe, were trying out their own elections. (The mode (average) year for new African states was 1960)

Maybe the lesson-module was taught province-wide, I don’t know. Anyways, children all over our school district learned words like “scrutineer” and “platform.” Enthusiastic students would telephone a party headquarters and request pamphlets. The word soon went out to all teachers, district-wide, to tell us not to telephone the New Democratic Party, as the NDP staff were volunteers, with limited pamphlets, and they couldn’t handle the workload from students.

My memories of elementary school are clear: Never did I hear anyone hear anyone say the line I heard a 12-year old girl say on CBC radio last week. She had been taking some sort of civics at school. She said, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.” Such a sad, pathetic, despairing line.

Back in elementary school I was enthusiastically reading history texts about the ancient Greeks and Romans being proudly devoted to citizenship. They never recorded for posterity any such line, a line I didn’t hear until years after I was an adult.

They knew back in classical times that actions and decisions and thinking have to engage citizens year round. As our first female prime minister, Kim Campbell, said, “An election is no time to discuss serious issues.” (“Snap elections” in Canada are called by surprise, by the party in office, and usually last about a month) 

Perhaps she meant that any person waiting, to discuss-and-think, until after a snap election has been called is as irresponsible as a college student waiting until the last possible night before thinking through the implications of his due-next-morning research paper. I think she mostly meant that during an election you have barely time for sound bites, slogans and feeling rushed, no time for open-minded deliberate thinking, little or no patience for chewing over explanations.

I am sure some folks, in their despair, would say the public has no responsibility for taking action year round, because the public, they would say, has no authority. No classic citizenship, only a peasant-like endurance; only a brief flash of power, like a firefly in the dark on election night. This despairing, powerless point of view is probably what produces the desperate line, “If you don’t vote you have no right to complain.” If voting is all there is, they reason, then they have to hype it up, even if the line sounds like a cry of weakness. Of course, the fellow-Canadians they are hoping against hope to goad into voting are just like the folks in Lebanon: “they just don’t get it.”

Our ancestors were no giants. They gossiped and complained as much as we do today. Yet, in place of despair they had dignity. They felt the rank of “citizen” was the highest honor in the land.

Sean Crawford
Calgary and Vancouver
October election week
About Polling Stations:
I could be wrong, (not really) but I think advanced polling stations were intended for folks with disabilities, folks going out of town, and for other special reasons. I think the government in recent years has been pushing advanced polls as merely another option, a convenience. Hence the early-voting statistics are up this year, with lineups at the advance polls. Journalists are reporting the lineups, but they aren't reporting just when the government changed to advanced polls being for mere convenience.

Because I will be in another time zone on Election Day, I voted early for the first time, and I can tell you, the atmosphere was different than I’m used to. The lineup did not feel happy; people were silent and uncertain. Partly because the place was a lot smaller than a regular polling station—the staff must have been surprised by the turn out of people voting for convenience.

I don’t want voting to ever be convenient; and, even though I’m a science fiction fan, I certainly don’t want voting to ever be done by pushing a button while sitting at home on my couch. (As some have proposed—I suppose the technology already exists)

When I hit the polling station, even during the last hour before closing, I find a nice positive energy in the air. I feel a certain community spirit towards those who are as committed as I am to doing their duty. Not because they “have to,” or have been goaded, but because they quietly think it is the proper thing to do, even if nobody else notices. But we who are there, we notice each other. 

How amusing: Passing through Kamloops (see I found the anti-Sean. I mention him not to laugh at him, but to fairly balance my post with "the other side." On page A9 for Tuesday October 13 of the above publication, I  find a letter to the editor headlined It is high Time We are able to a vote Online with the quote call-out "The process of voting should be updated, streamlined and made for (sic) more accessible and convenient for everyone." 

The writer, Brian Husband complains about his experience at an advance poll without giving any reason as to why he felt entitled to vote in advance—presumably he wanted convenience. 
He then writes, "…it just stands to reason I should be able to sign in, prove my identification through a username and password and vote. I should not have to get into my car, burn fossil fusels and find the one and only location, open only during certain hours and not available 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

...I may be starting to sound like a grumpy old man,  but who can tell me why this has to be so difficult when it could be so easy? 

No wonder young  people don't bother to vote."

Well dear readers, I could tell Mr. Husband why, by giving him this blog post to read, but he might find it too long to be convenient. 


  1. Thanks again Sean. My husband and I voted early as we will both be out of town on election day. There were a fair number of people right there with us. I wouldn't want to see voting online because I think that could lead to bullying other household members to vote for someone else's preferred candidate. At least in a public place the person could say they were voting one way to appease their spouse (or whoever) and then in the privacy of the voting booth be able to vote for the candidate of their own choosing. At home it might be more difficult to ensure that privacy.

  2. Hi Cindy. You've nailed it. I don't think anyone else has mentioned that issue.

    It's hard for me to imagine a father who believes, as above, in sharia law or honour killings who would not also insisting on watching his adult daughters and wife each press their button.