MORRISBURG — Visit the United States during the fall season and you will see many things, 99 per cent of them tied to an election campaign of some sort. Residents in the United States vote for every and any position. The running joke is that in some areas you can run for village dog catcher. Citizens engage in their politics there, some may argue they may be a little too engaged. That is the trade-off for having a free and democratic society. In Canada, it is the opposite. People choose not vote or engage in the political process. Voter participation in Canadian democracy has hovered around 60 per cent for over a decade. It is a sad fact that it only took 39.6 per cent of eligible voters to elect Stephen Harper as Prime Minister in 2011. Sadder still is that it took just 39.5 per cent of eligible voters to elect Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister in 2015. There is a substantial flaw in our political process, we do not get to exercise it enough.
Every four years we get to vote for our federal, provincial, and municipal representatives. After that, the politicians run the show and we all grumble and complain about who we voted for. The last national referendum in Canada was in 1992. Rarely do we see questions put to the people in provincial or municipal matters. In the United States, this is a frequent occurrence. The slippery slope of having less opportunity for people to vote is a tuning out of the process. It gives some an excuse to take advantage of our lack of participation or interest in the political process.
Case in point, Cornwall City Council. With the recent resignation of a councillor who was elected in 2014, council had three options to fill the vacancy at the November 9th meeting. Appoint the 11th place runner-up; take applications for the job; or hold a by-election. A majority of council voted for the runner-up method. Cornwall Newswatch Editor Bill Kingston stated, when covering the council meeting, that council voted to use the runner-up method because they felt people would not take part. No, council does not know this, they presumed the complacency of voters. That presumption allowed a small group of people were able to circumvent what the right course of action was, a by-election, and install someone of their choosing.
This is in no way an indictment on Denis Carr as he is good replacement. It is an indictment of the nine people sitting at the council table who supported this method. Councillor Justin Towndale was the lone opposition to the appointment. Carr brings a lot of experience back to the table. That is never a bad thing. He is well connected to the community and always champions for Cornwall. However he was not the people’s elected choice, he was council’s choice, that point must be clear. In 2014, Carr placed twelfth. Guy St-Jean , the eleventh place candidate, is no longer eligible as he is not a taxpayer in Cornwall. Carr will get the nod and the majority of council was able to choose, not the eligible voters of the city.
There has been a fair amount of talk about democratic reform. The federal Liberals pledged to end the first-past-the-post system of voting. Many have talked about changing the voting method, allowing for online voting, or transferable/ranked ballots. What we should be looking at is not the method of voting, but the frequency. How many times have you heard at the coffee shop or checkout line, or seen on social media the statement “I wish I could vote the bums out”? If we could vote more often, that would be possible. Shorter terms of office allow for more oversight by the constituents, lessening the chance of abuse of office.
For Canadians, our democracy has become too complacent, too easy. One and done, see you in four years. We may not need to vote for the local bylaw officer or county coroner, but we need a say more often into how we are governed, and by whom. We do not need recall legislation, or a new method of voting, we need more frequent elections. If there are more frequent elections, you will attract more participation in the process. Then mistakes such as the one made by Cornwall city council can be avoided.