Yes, you heard it correctly.  After what seemed like an eternity of student elections we have been plunged back into the world of expensive campaigns, designer websites, non-informative campaign videos, and a bunch of candidates who just want to be popular enough to get the vote.

No, Andrew Forgione has not been forced to step down as USC President-elect due to connections with the Italian mafia.

I know it's hard, but it's every Canadian's right to do it...

I am actually talking about the Canadian Federal Election that is set to happen on May 2nd, 2011.  For most people my age, this will be the first time that you are able to cast a vote for the government of this great country, and I hope that you use it to the fullest.

However, that means that you will actually have to pay attention to what’s going on in the world of politics.  Hint: following topics like #cdnpoli or #elxn41 on Twitter would be a good start for the social media inclined (that includes myself).  That also means reading platforms that might seem like a bunch of throwaway promises designed to lock in the vote of a certain demographic.

Because it is important to vote.  I know that is said every time an election rolls around and it is always met by the same snorts of ‘yeah, right’ or ‘one vote won’t make any difference.’  And those claims might be true in a two-party, two-candidate system like what is used in the United States.

Your vote is your voice.  It might seem like your voice isn’t loud enough to make a difference, but the point is that you use it.  Because when you actually speak up, someone somewhere will hear you and pay attention.  Hopefully that someone will be your local MP who represents you at Parliament.

It’s not about whether your vote will be the deciding vote in the election.  It’s not about picking the winner in a landslide election or jumping on a bandwagon (*cough*, Obama, *cough*).  It’s about the mandate.

Any elected official is given the mandate to represent the voters and that mandate is only as strong as the number of voters who turn out to the polls.  A smaller number of voters means that the government’s mandate is not as strong as if every single eligible voter actually voted.  It’s the difference between a couple people saying something and the whole country saying something and, in all honesty, which one would you be more likely to listen to?

These government types are all master-debaters!

So vote, if only to put pressure on the government to do its job.  And then, if it doesn’t do its job, you can complain about it and protest.  If you don’t vote, you don’t have that right.  You can only complain about the government if you give them a mandate.  If you don’t and refuse to vote, then you forfeit the right to complain about their actions.  You didn’t vote for them or against them and in doing so lost your right to comment on anything that the government did while in power.

So, use your voice and vote!

This talk of mandates leads me to think of another problem I have with voting practices: the practice of voting for a party rather than a person.

In the Canadian system, we elect MPs from our local riding to represent the voice of that riding at Parliament.  Then, the party that has the most elected MPs is asked to form the government and the Prime Minister is chosen by dint of being the leader of the popular party.  It is expected that we vote for our MP, and not for the Prime Minister.  So why then do we vote for parties and not people?

Voting for parties may get us the party that matches most with our ideals in power, but the ideals of the Conservative party and a Conservative candidate may not be identical.  That same candidate could meet the same base ideals, but radically differ on things such as gun control or daycare.  They also could just be not the best candidate.  There may be someone out there who is more responsive to the voters and more capable of being heard in Parliament.

Simply put, a party does not make a candidate who they are.  A party simply gives them a platform to be a candidate.  It doesn’t change who a candidate is or how they are going to do the job.

All of this is why, when exercising your right to vote, you should vote for the candidate in your riding that best represents your riding regardless of what party they are running under.  They may be running as a member of the Galactic Empire Party for all that allegiance is worth.

While we’re on the topic of candidates in ridings, how much campaigning do you think Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe, and Elizabeth May are doing in their home ridings?  How much campaigning are they doing to ensure that people see them as the best person to represent the wishes of the people?  Or are they always on the road promoting their parties?

Jack Layton's tan made me confused as at first I thought he was a Typical Western Girl.

In all honesty, if any of those candidates were in my riding, I would not vote for them.  Not because I have anything against the parties that they lead, but rather because they put going on publicity tour as a higher priority than actually engaging the voters of their riding.  I’m sure the other candidates in Jack Layton’s riding aren’t just sitting around with their feet up because they know Layton is in the same riding.  They are likely out there trying to get to know the thousands of people in their riding and understand exactly what they want from their MP.  Leaders like Layton though are off being celebrities (and Layton certainly looks like one with the traffic cone coloured tan that he’s been rocking so far this campaign period).

Things like televised debates and Vote Compass don’t help this situation either.  They are all about breaking down politics into broad, generalized Party ideals.  They have no time for picking the best candidates, only for painting anyone who runs under the Bloc Quebecois banner with the same brush.  They chase voters to the ideals that match up best with their answers to questions, completely missing the point that the ideals of parties and candidates don’t always match up.

So, when your casting your ballot like a dutiful Canadian, vote for the candidate that best represents your ideals, not just the one who is best friends with the leader of their party.  Voting for the best candidate will only result in a better, more responsive government instead of one that is content to avoid transparency and public opinion like the plague.

At the end of the day, no matter who you vote for, do the right thing and vote.  Earn your right to complain when the winning party fails to live up to its promises!


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