Let’s talk about politics

Photo Credit: Phoebe Lim

There are a few taboo subjects that you’re not supposed to bring up unless you’re among very close friends; for some reason, politics is one of them. I’ve always thought that healthy political debates and discussions are some of the best, most stimulating conversations one can have — and that we’d be better off having a lot more of them.

I was recently inspired by Joel Bakan, author of The Corporation, and his speech during a SFU alumni appreciation event. He gave some advice for young people. He said, “get involved in large ‘P’ politics.” He also described his experience speaking at one of the Occupy Movement camps, where he said, “You shouldn’t just be occupying the streets; you should be occupying government [. . .]. We the people are supposed to occupy government.”

I strongly agree with his sentiment, and I think we need to realize that markets are not going to solve climate change, poverty, or unemployment — those things will have to be fixed by government regulations or new legislation that directly affects us as citizens. We need to actively participate in the democratic process to ensure that the policies and laws we end up with represent our opinions as much as possible.

But how will we ever hope to fix declining voter turnout and increase citizen engagement if we’re conditioned not to talk about the subject? It seems that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to political involvement in our country, and I find it concerning that, as Mel Hurtig writes in The Arrogant Autocrat, 80 per cent of Canadian adults have never belonged to a political party, and less than 1 per cent of eligible donors made a donation to a political party in the 2011 federal election.

It’s not fair that a party with 39.6 per cent of the votes can win a majority government.

I’m sure more than one per cent of Canadians have political opinions and had something to say about the results of that election, so I think it’s time we start putting our money where our mouth is.

Only 61.1 per cent of eligible voters made their opinions count in our last federal election — there are more people who voted for no one than voted for the reigning party. With this many people not participating in our democratic process, we have no way of knowing if those elected actually represent the majority of Canadians.

Of course, people remain cynical towards politicians, and this is worsened by the fact that our electoral system is in great need of reform to proportional representation. It doesn’t seem fair that a party with 39.6 per cent of the votes can win a majority government, and a party with six per cent of the vote can elect nobody. It’s no wonder Canada was ranked 131st in the world for voter turnout in 2011.

Until our electoral system undergoes much-needed reform, what are we to do? For starters, vote. If you’re keen to get more involved than that, I highly recommend you join a political party or interest group, volunteer for a cause you feel strongly about, and most importantly, share your opinions with others. It’s high time we start involving ourselves in politics.