As an “ex-pat” Kiwi, I read the letter Mr. Conway wrote in the October 15th edition of The Valley Echo with interest. His subject matter, the grassroots ability to enable political change, has always interested me. However, achieving political change requires voters who care; and voter turnout in Canada, or I should say, voter apathy, has long been a matter of concern to those who believe in the democratic process.
Since becoming a Canadian citizen in 1974, I take pride in having voted in every election — municipal, provincial and federal. Municipal elections have the lowest voter turnout yet at this political level have more direct impact on Canadians than the provincial and federal elections when you factor in the very important matter of how your property taxes are spent or in some cases, misspent. Local politics cover schools, sidewalk and road maintenance, garbage collection, libraries, cost of water, zoning and many, many more services that impact our daily local life. A single vote at the municipal and city level carries more weight than a single vote at the provincial and federal levels, due mainly to the poor voter turnout in local elections. The lesser-known candidates or those running for the first or second time can squeak in by just rallying friends, families and business associates to attend the polling stations. As an example, the voter turnout in the last local election in North Vancouver district where my wife and I lived for many years was 18 per cent.
In the recent national election in New Zealand, voter turnout was 78 per cent of eligible voters. In the last Canada federal election, 2011, voter turnout was 58 per cent; in 2008, a pitiful 53 per cent (Conference Board of Canada Numbers). Australia, by comparison, with mandatory voting at the federal level achieved a turnout of 95 per cent in their last federal election. Considering the fine for not voting is a measly $20 (less than the cost of a case of beer in Oz), I think that number reflects well on Australians. I would imagine the missing 5 per cent would be made up of those institutionalized, those with Alzheimer’s, dementia and so on.
City/municipal voter turnout in New Zealand in their last civic elections was 44 per cent compared to the British Columbia average across all towns and municipalities in the last civic elections of 29 per cent. As a matter of interest, New Zealand and British Columbia have roughly the same population size.
So, in response to Mr. Conway’s letter, yes, the grassroots do have the power to make change at levels of the political system — but only if they care. Obviously, in Canada, many more people don’t care than do.