I cast my vote in an advance poll this morning, because I'm not going to be available on election day.
There is no good reason not to vote, for those entitled to cast votes. It doesn't take a lot of time, and it's about asserting your voice in government. Politicians play to the voters. They don't care about the non-voters. And so non-voters have no voice in government policy.
Not voting is not a protest. It is not a statement. It is an expression of apathy, and is taken by politicians as a blank cheque. We don't require a quorum of voters; we don't fire politicians if voter turnout is too low. Low voter turnout has the consequence that an ever-smaller group of people can control the election results. Consider this: Rob Ford won 47.1% of the popular vote in Toronto in 2010. Which, in a First-Past-the-Post system, is a pretty strong win, with an 11.5-point lead over the second place candidate. But voter turnout was 53.2% - which is sadly a relatively strong turnout, compared to prior elections with turnouts in the high thirties range.
Of about 1.53 million eligible voters in Toronto:
- 383,501 voted for Ford;
- 289,832 voted for Smitherman;
- 95,482 voted for Pantalone;
- 45,169 voted for the dozens of other Mayoral candidates, cumulatively; and
- Approximately 700,000 eligible voters simply did not vote.
The clear winner, by a landslide, was voter apathy, and unfortunately that does not contribute to responsible government. Sadly, that is not unusual.
Even if, as in Thornhill, the race was basically a foregone conclusion from the outset, it's still critical to get out and vote. Thornhill is frequently a battleground between Liberals and Conservatives, but Governments seldom gain seats in by-elections. Despite the unfortunately Duffy-esque circumstances of Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman's departure, it's hard to imagine the Liberals or NDP picking up the seat under these circumstances. Niagara Falls, by contrast, which was formerly Liberal-held, appears to a battleground between NDP and PCs.
Whether you prefer the PCs and expect them to win anyways, or support some other party and figure your vote is too little to make a difference, none of that matters. You have one vote. You can use it, and be part of the group trying to elect a candidate, or you can stay home, and be part of the group that steps aside and lets other people choose government. (And if that's the case, I'd best not hear you complain afterwards about the choice that you let other people make.)
How to Vote
I'm not going to tell you to vote any given way. That's not the point. Those of you who are in affected ridings should get out there and vote for whichever candidate you want to win. Those of you who aren't...should still take this to heart, because we're presumably looking at an Ontario and Federal General Election in October of next year, as well as municipal elections later this year. There's no time like the present to start paying attention to what our leaders are doing.
I don't consistently vote by party. I have my own political views which tend to make me more amenable to some parties' usual policies than others, but I look at a number of factors when I vote: The party's policy platform and/or record; the party's leader; and the individual candidate.
While I couldn't fault anyone for suggesting that we have something of a dearth of desirable options in Ontario at present, I also don't believe in 'protest' votes. Nothing good comes out of protest votes - the very notion is that you're voting for somebody you don't actually want to win, endorsing a policy agenda you don't support, and if by some chance enough protest votes run that way, it is possible to accidentally elect an undesired candidate.
(Strategic voting is a more nuanced question. It is an attempt to defeat the limitations of FPP electoral systems by predicting the likely outcomes and voting to support the better of the likely outcomes, as opposed to 'wasting' your vote on a preferred-but-less-likely outcome. It's about 'lesser evils', and while it makes a lot of sense in almost any given election, in the long term it basically cements a two-party system in a perpetual catch-22 for alternatives: Nobody will vote for you until you can show a reasonable chance of winning, but you can't show a reasonable chance of winning unless you have a track record of securing votes.)
Who's Running in Thornhill?
By-election ballots are traditionally longer, as a number of activists put themselves on the ballot. There is no strict requirement to have any connection to the riding in which you're running, so there are individuals who run in basically every by-election at all levels.
Thornhill's ballot has 8 candidates: There are the 'traditional' options of the PCs, Liberals, and NDP; the long-established alternatives like the Greens, the Libertarians, and the Freedom Party (these six were on Thornhill's ballot in the last Provincial election); and then there are the "People" party and the "Pauper" party, respectively represented by Kevin Clark and John Turmel, both of whom put themselves on as many ballots as they can. (You might recall my very first "Stranger than Fiction" post in 2011, featuring an action by Mr. Turmel.)
In the interests of brevity, I'll quickly overview a couple of points about the PC, Liberal, and NDP candidates.
The PC Candidate is Gila Martow. Ms. Martow is an optometrist who has long been active in volunteerism in York Region. Ms. Martow heavily criticizes the pending increase to the minimum wage, calling it a "vote-buying, feel-good kind of message", arguing that most minimum-wage earners are teenagers living at home, and that there are few if any families, especially Thornhill, subsisting on minimum wage income.
Unfortunately, Ms. Martow's beliefs are generally not consistent with the facts. While Thornhill is undeniably a largely-affluent community, there are nonetheless a significant number of minimum-wage earners even there. Likewise, while a great many minimum-wage earners are young people, they don't have anything close to a monopoly on it. Province-wide, according to a study last year by the Wellesley Institute, 9% of Ontarians are earning minimum wage (up from 4.3% in 2003), and of those 39% are 25 or older. Furthermore, there are disproportionately high numbers of women, racialized Ontarians, and recent immigrants working for minimum wage. (It isn't clear to me on published numbers whether or not it is strictly true or false that a 'majority' of minimum-wage employees are teenagers, but either way it seems questionable to imply that minimum wage is a non-issue.)
Not surprisingly, given the nature of by-elections, Ms. Martow is a clear front-runner in the polls.
The Liberal Candidate is Sandra Yeung Racco, Vaughan Ward 4 Councillor, and wife of Mario Racco who represented the riding in the first term of the McGuinty government. She speaks significantly of transit solutions, including stating that she would support a new gas tax if the proceeds went to funding public transit, and that she would fight for a subway extension into Thornhill.
A York Region subway is on the Liberal policy agenda, though there's still no specific funding plan or timeframe, making it hard to attach much credibility to. As well, with the gas plant scandal still casting a pall over the Liberals and Wynne still relatively untested in her role, Yeung Racco faces a steep uphill battle.
This is Cindy Hackelberg second election campaign. In 2011, she was given the NDP nomination after the party rescinded the nomination of another individual following circulation of an article he had written which was highly critical of the party and of Horwath. Her biography indicates that she works (or has worked?) as a journalist, and also works as a manager for a high-tech company. Most of her election pitch appears to be built on the traditional NDP 'alternative' narrative, and she has argued that transit funding should come through new corporate taxes, to avoid placing the burden on families.
Elections are about giving the people a voice in government, by allowing them to choose who speaks for them. It is the only direct input we have into government. Polls are useful; trends are important; but at the end of the day the choice comes down to the one you make when you get out and vote.