By Luke Faulks, Opinions Editor
We all have that friend. The one who, come election day, will sit it out. Whether it’s a federal, provincial, municipal, or school-based election, you hear the same rationale for abstention.
“They’re all the same.”
Except they’re not. And it’s time we start calling out the expression for the careless and false cynicism it represents. Fortunately, using this tactic, everyone, from the politically inclined to the idle cynics among us, can find solace.
Let’s get this out of the way at the top: Not every citizen who sits out an election does so purely out of an inability to distinguish between party platforms. There are other ways that political engagement is undermined in Canada, from a voting system that disenfranchises large swaths of the country to a prohibitive voting schedule. Those are important issues that deserve and require legislative amelioration.
The “they’re all the same” fallacy, however, doesn’t require the same amount of legislative firepower. Mostly because it’s an issue that voters can address themselves through a simple act of investigation.
Let’s take climate change as an example. During the 2021 federal election, only 76% of Canadians turned out to vote. The number shrinks to 66% for young people. A tragedy considering what’s at stake for younger generations. Looking at each party’s climate platform helps rebuke the fallacy this piece raises.
Here’s the easy part: the platforms of the furthest left (Green) and furthest right (People’s) parties that have polled higher than five percent. The 2021 Greens pledged to exceed Canada’s Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Accords for 2030 by 15 to 20%. They also planned to “cancel pipeline projects, ban fracking, and slap tariffs on imports from countries with weak climate policies,” in addition to halting fossil fuel subsidies. On the other hand, The regressive People’s Party, in its official platform, denied that a “scientific consensus” on climate had been met. Between both parties, a gulf. On one side, a party that offered Canada the best chance to contribute to a global effort on climate change, on the other, a party that condemns Canadians and the rest of the world to an unlivable future.
Neither party was ever going to earn more than 10% of the vote, however. So let’s look at the big guns.
The Liberal Party pledged to extend its price on carbon — a program that had earned global acclaim — by increasing the price for polluters to $170/tonne of CO2 by 2030 — which is on the high-end p of what climate economists recommend. The party had just come off passing Bill C-12, which codified a net-zero by 2050 target for Canada. Under a Conservative leadership, the pricing model goes away. The long-dead Northern Gateway pipeline would be inexplicably revived. The net-zero by 2050 law would be called into question. On climate, degrees of difference represent a real difference of degrees.
But climate change isn’t the only area where distinctions shouldn’t be denied. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see the long-term slow-motion train wreck that is the overturning of Roe v. Wade. While the plot to overturn Roe dates back decades, we can turn back just a few years to the 2016 election to see what made it possible.
Clinton’s 2016 loss directly led to the appointment of three Supreme Court justices — one filling a stolen seat, one an ill-tempered credibly-accused rapist, and another a part of a religious sect that treats women as chattel. Those three critical votes in the recent elimination of a woman’s right to choose, could have been Democratic judges ruling on everything from contraception to workplace discrimination to, yes, challenges to Roe. But no, the demographics Clinton counted on stayed home.
Here, though, we can find some hope. There are meaningful differences between candidates’ platforms. Challenging people who claim “they’re all the same” is the start of meaningful political participation. Getting politicians with decent platforms elected is the first of several necessary stepping stones. Elect them, then call, write, and protest. You just have to cast the ballot.
If you live in BC, you’ve got an election this October! Municipal elections might not get high-profile coverage, but they’re important, and worth taking the time to research. Or, run for office yourself!