The federal minister of state for democratic reform deserves full marks for exploring ways to increase voter turnout in federal elections, but the measures he has in mind appear to be mere tinkering. And that’s not likely to make much difference in Canadians’ desire to get out and cast their vote.
Steven Fletcher was in Charlottetown last week for a roundtable discussion on the upcoming federal budget and to hear ideas for reforming the democratic system. Among other things, he has introduced legislation in the House that would create more advance polling days, and voting on the Sunday before a Monday election to accommodate people’s schedules. “I think Sunday will allow people to plan more thoroughly and include voting as part of their week of the general election,” Mr. Fletcher said.
Offering more time and opportunity may appeal to those already inclined to vote, but it’s unlikely to make any difference to those Canadians who’ve become so cynical about governments and all things political that they wouldn’t vote if Elections Canada brought the ballot box right to their door.
Canadians have been a little smug about the fact their voter turnout has been traditionally higher than that of the United States. But if statistics are any indication, the turnout in this country in recent elections is nothing to boast about. According to Elections Canada figures, turnout has dropped steadily from 75.3 per cent in the election of 1984 to 58.8 per cent in 2008.
Why the decline? Political observers and statisticians have differing theories. Some say certain elections have drawn fewer voters simply because they’ve lacked an issue that galvanizes Canadians or because the parties lacked leaders who can generate interest and focus in a campaign. They also point out incidentals — an election held after a long weekend, when people may be distracted in getting ready for the short week ahead, could reap a lower turnout.
But what’s difficult to ignore is the apparent trend line. The fact that the turnout has dropped steadily and now stands at 58.8 per cent suggests a chronic lack of interest that could be linked to a growing cynicism toward the political process.
If it’s lack of faith in the political system that’s keeping people away from the voting booth, offering more time to vote isn’t going to solve the problem anymore than a church will fill the pews by offering more services. It’s a matter of faith, and unless our governments have the courage to confront what’s really keeping people away from the voting booth, they’re just engaging in mere busywork.
A sure future for this building
After years of wondering what would become of the Dominion Building on Queen Street in Charlottetown, capital city residents finally have the satisfaction of knowing. The developer informed Islanders last week that the massive structure that has dominated lower Queen Street in Charlottetown for decades will become higher-end apartments and commercial space.
This may not satisfy those who hoped it might become the site for a provincial museum or affordable rental units for low-income Islanders, but the good news is, the building will expand residential options in the downtown and provide extra commercial space.
It’s also a bonus that the building won’t be torn down. The Dominion Building represents the functional architecture characteristic of the post-Second World War era. It’s encouraging that the developer apparently intends to maintain the current look while converting it into a new use.