Respect the right to vote

Walking into a polling booth for the first time is an event not to be taken lightly.

Walking into a polling booth for the first time is an event not to be taken lightly.

I remember my first time and was thrilled and a little overwhelmed. At just 18 years old, I was being tasked with the responsibility of deciding who was going to run the country for the next four years. I couldn’t legally drink and had only been behind the wheel for two years, but voting? Absolutely!

It was the year Joe Clark and his Progressive Conservative government defeated Pierre Elliot Trudeau and the Liberals, though Clark’s win was as a minority government and he lasted just nine months in office before the non-confidence vote in the House of Commons turfed him out of office. Yes, this was many years before Clark was viewed as an elder statesmen of Canadian politics.

As a daughter of longtime Liberals who had also had a longtime crush on Trudeau, it wasn’t difficult to make my vote, rather uninformed though it was.

Without a doubt, it was an interesting time to be a first-time voter. Yes, it was only one vote. But we live in a democracy, where it is not only a great privilege to vote, it is our right. We are blessed to live in a part of the world where we are allowed to exercise that right. There are plenty of nations around the world where its citizens are not given that right. Alternatively, there are a number of countries where voting is compulsory, and fines levied for non-voting, such as Australia, where voting has been mandatory since 1924.

I hear too many people admit that they don’t vote and frankly it enrages me. There are lots of reasons: don’t want to stand in line at the polls, don’t have time, one vote doesn’t make a difference. The list is endless, although I suppose voter apathy is one of the main reasons.

Now the civic election may not feel laden with as much gravitas as a federal or provincial election, but in so many ways it is even more crucial. The mayor and council, regional directors and school trustees live in our community. These are the people whom we see at the grocery store, the performing arts centre, the pews at church, the farmers’ market. These are the people whose decisions really do have an impact on our every-day life, from an increase in our property taxes to getting the ball rolling on a new hockey arena, from getting our roads upgraded and making sure the streets are free of snow and safe for driving in the winter, to giving parents a voice for their children’s education.

Yet the numbers tell us that only a small percentage of Canadians actually turn up at the polls.

This year’s election is Nov. 15, just a few days after Remembrance Day. If we are honouring the people who gave their lives so we can enjoy the freedoms we know and cherish, then why not honour them by also going to the polls, marking your ballot and having a voice. Let’s not take those freedoms we love for granted.

The polls are open all day Nov. 15, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — get out and vote.

– Katherine Mortimer reports for the Vernon Morning Star.