By Leah Scheitel
We are a few days away from arguably the most influential election in recent Canadian history and when it’s over it will be a bigger relief than loosening your pants after a Thanksgiving feast. This election was the longest, most scandalous and therefore most interesting one to impact the Canadian political landscape in a decade. People are paying attention and it’s showing.
On the first day of advance polling, stations across the country were backed up with people eager to cast their votes. Early reports suggest that as many as 850,000 Canadians showed up to vote on the first day of advanced polling, which is more than we have ever seen. I cast my advanced ballot in Calgary, one riding north of Stephen Harper’s turf, and did it while covering my face with a big, scruffy fall-themed scarf in silent protest of the niqab becoming a pivotal and polarizing issue in this election. Yet another white girl wearing an oversized scarf went unnoticed. There were at least 150 people in lineup, and this was only an hour after the polls opened at noon. My mother and I were lucky, as we were in and out of there in 30 minutes, but others weren’t as lucky, with some waiting at the Calgary Military Museum for over two hours to cast their early ballot.
It was a similar situation in Fernie, B.C., where I work as a community newspaper reporter. I visited the advanced polling station on Saturday afternoon to see the turnout, and the central polling officer said that there was up to an hour and a half wait. Elections Canada was obviously taken by surprise, as they only had one booth available, resulting in long waits even in a town of 4,000 eligible voters. Not only is this common in the Kootenay-Columbia riding I’m reporting on, but also right across the country.
CBC News reported that 3.6 million Canadians cast an early vote over Thanksgiving weekend, with over 1.2 ballots cast on Monday alone. This is a 71 per cent increase from 2011 Federal election. On top of that, Elections Canada pilot project hosting voting stations on campuses was deemed successful, with 70,231 cast at these new locations. This is good news, as it specifically encourages the youth to vote.
The long election did one thing – it made people want to vote, either to make a statement or to protest its length and costs.
Admittedly, I run in a liberal circle. My social media feeds are stuffed with statuses begging people to strategically vote. Over half of my Facebook friends list is attending the ‘Stephen Harper Going Away Party’ event that has gained traction and trolls. I think I have one friend who has openly admitted to voting Conservative. Shamefully, I lubed up on white wine before lecturing her about her choice. I definitely don’t agree with her choice in politics, but with a dating record that makes Britney Spears’ marriages look successful, maybe my choices haven’t been as wise as I’d like to think.
As a progressive, left-wing daughter of theatre freaks, and a socially minded woman, I would like to dump Stephen Harper this election. My thoughts don’t vary from my peers much on that. Where I do differ, however, is that I’m happier to see that people are taking an interest, voting early and talking about huge issues that are pertinent to Canada than to see the demise of Harper. I don’t care who anyone is voting for. That’s their horse to ride and their choice to make. I’m just happy that people – especially youth – are making it.
There are other issues that this election has stirred up, and I hope the conversation of the welfare of this country continues after the election. I fear that people will return to reruns of reality TV shows and think that because Harper is weaker (which he obviously is, we don’t need election results to support that theory) the country will operate with the ease and grace of a Canadian goose. We need to have many conversations about national issues – the Truth and Reconciliation report, the status of the thousands of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, how to finally get the economy and the environment to complement each other, the issues of transparency and surveillance with the government, and what to do with the Senate, if anything – these topics are just a few of the conversations we need to have as a collective. But this election is making me hopeful that the Canadian public has an interest in at least showing up to the table for the discussion.
It’s not that the advance polls have been all beer and roses. Elections Canada underestimated the demand, causing long line ups, understaffed polling stations and overall frustrations for many. Again, CBC reported that one Elections Canada official threw a hissy fit and quit in the middle of the day due to the increasing frustrations. However, instead of the traditional “Fuck It” attitude that has infected previous elections, people seem more inclined to make sure that their vote is cast. Regardless of who forms government next Tuesday, it will be hard to ignore the number of Canadians that voted and the issues that inspired them to vote. There are issues people care about this time, and this election campaign has proved that caring is the best defense against apathy.
Leah loves a stiff drink, is obsessed with Saturday Night Live, and lives for her cats. She’s the most articulate date you’ll ever have. Voting turns her on.