Is having a right the same as having a choice? I have a right to vote, but do I have a right not to vote? I'm always astounded at how many answer 'No' to this question. Those are the same people who claim to be freedom-loving fighters of democracy.
Many other zealous advocates of democratic rights will say 'Yes, you have a right not to vote, but then you're giving up your right to complain about the person in power.'
I have another take. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think our forefathers who fought for our freedom would support a gag order on all the apathetic non-voters out there. I believe that anyone who pays taxes, has a right to complain about what that money is being used for. I also believe that much of that money was well spent on a campaign to get Canadians to "Speak Up" this federal election.
I do think it's important to exercise democratic rights, but my rebellious streak flares up when I see the endless finger-wagging on the subject. Since the last election resulted in the lowest turnout ever, many a commentator has taken up the charge and wagged their finger so much I thought they'd get tendonitis. I understand the sentiment - it seems that our electoral process is dragging behind it a big bogeyman called voter apathy.
But now I hear that I'm also giving up my democratic rights if I vote strategically instead of from the heart. Good thing I have someone to tell me how to be free, or that freedom could be replaced by someone telling me what to do all the time.
And then I hear that if I do follow my conscience, which often tells me that no one is worthy of my vote, and so decide to spoil my ballot, I can face a fine of $500. Here I thought the polling station was as private as a confessional.
I agree that every eligible Canadian should vote. It hurts my heart, too, to imagine the sacrifices all those poor young men and women made for just that right only to have it squandered. But let's lay off the intrusive scolding for one moment and look at the positive. This year's turnout took a jump of almost five per cent and the proactive voting campaign Student Vote seems to be making great headway in getting the next generation excited about voting. More that 440,000 students participated in a mock election the week of January 16 and political critics agree that this bodes well for Canada's future. In Squamish, 60 per cent of Howe Sound Secondary students decided to participate in the student election, even though their vote didn't count. That's a higher voter turnout than our own last municipal election received.
There, now doesn't that give you finger waggers out there something to smile about?