Don’t be an idiot!

Toula Foscolos
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A recent blog post by Michel Venne, Director General of l’Institut du Nouveau Monde, revealed some troubling – yet not surprising – stats about voting trends in Quebec.

Toula Foscolos

Since 1998, the number of Quebecers who chose not to vote doubled from 21% to 42%.  In 2008 four Quebecers out of 10 didn’t vote. Among young voters 18-24, only one out of three voted. The most troublesome statistic? The number of young people who exercised their right to vote the first time they were able to, plummeted from 70% in the ‘70s, to 34% in 2000. Venne refers to this as the “political suicide of a generation” because numerous studies confirm that if someone doesn’t exercise their right to vote initially, they almost never do later on in life.

“Political suicide” because an entire generation is consciously or unconsciously choosing to renounce its influence and power over the kind of government they’ll end up with, and ultimately putting in jeopardy our ability, as a democracy, to collectively decide on issues that matter to us all.

Much has been said lately about why young people don’t vote. Lots of hand-wringing, as we, as a society, attempt to understand what is it about the electoral process that leaves them unable to see themselves adequately represented, and therefore wanting to participate and cast their vote. Voir blogger, Simon Jodoin wrote an honest piece on why he repeatedly spoiled his ballot in the past. I saw my frustration at my voting options clearly reflected in his writing, so I get why so many choose to opt out, rather than (in their opinion) sell out.

At the same time, the confusion and mistrust of the older generation who, after scolding young people for being too apathetic and unconcerned with civic matters, don’t like the way many youngsters (students, notably) have chosen to engage, leaves me baffled. Democracy doesn’t always work in neat, linear lines. Engaging in the democratic process entails much more than voting, and this collective social awareness that’s reverberated across Quebec these past few months may be messy, discombobulated, and sometimes a little too theatrical for my tastes, but ultimately it is about involving oneself in civic matters in a non-traditional way. It’s just as legitimate a form of democratic involvement as voting is.

That being said, while it’s as legitimate, it isn’t as effective, because, while protests and boycotts have the power to raise awareness and influence people, they have no real power to enact change. Only voting does. As inefficient and flawed as the system is, it’s not by rejecting it that you enact change, because, in a democracy, change can only happen within the system. Voting is where the buck stops; where it all culminates into something concrete and tangible.

Time and time again, while discussing politics, I’ve heard people say “But I don’t like politics! It bores me! They’re all crooks. What’s the point? Nothing will change…” I understand the anger, frustration, confusion, loss of hope, and downright disillusionment over a democratic system that’s not only hopelessly flawed, but most days appears to fumble along on the brink of broken. But what does refraining from our rights - and ultimately, responsibilities - actually accomplish, other than feeling momentarily good? You think spoiling your ballot sends a message? It sends no message at all!

Time and time again, while discussing politics, I’ve heard people say “But I don’t like politics! It bores me! They’re all crooks. What’s the point? Nothing will change…”

Nick Homer, Executive Director of Good Citizen, a U.S. non-profit organization that teaches young people how to be good citizens, once exclaimed: "The 'Silent Majority'? There is no 'Silent Majority'. It's an oxymoron. In a democracy, when the majority is silent, they are the minority.”

Ancient Greeks believed it was a citizen's responsibility to not only vote, but to educate oneself on civic matters. Both are integral to the process, because the former is worthless without the latter.

“A good example of the contempt Greeks felt for those who did not participate in politics can be found in the modern word 'idiot', which finds its origins in the ancient Greek word ἰδιώτης, meaning a private person, a person who is not actively interested in politics.” (Wikipedia)

It’s easy to shrug our collective shoulders and abstain from voting because it’s not the perfect process we wish it were. It’s easy to be lazy and simply check the box we’ve always checked because it’s familiar and feels safer. It’s easy to rely on the rhetoric, the fear-mongering, and the sound bites on the 6 o’clock news, the allegations, the scandals, and the Twitter faux pas, to make up our minds.

It’s much harder to take on the tedious – and arguably, more boring task – of educating ourselves on each party’s platform, in order to choose the one that best represents us and our values. But it’s what we owe it to ourselves to do. Because ultimately, as American broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow once said "our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions", and if we are to demand accountability from our politicians, we must demand it from ourselves. Do your homework. Make your choice. Cast your vote. Don’t be an idiot.

Main political parties

Here, conveniently listed for you, are the websites of the main political parties. Spend some time perusing them. Only the PLQ and the CAQ have bilingual websites.


Organizations: PLQ, PQ, CAQ QS

Geographic location: Quebec, U.S.

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