An election can be a lot of things to different people: it can be stressful, confusing, frustrating, thrilling, and for the most devoted partisans and politicos, truly moving. However, if there’s only one adjective you use to define this federal election, it should be “crucial.”
Why? Because Canada is at a tipping point. A small number of major issues, primarily climate change and indigenous relations, will define the future of our nation. Failure to act on these issues will be seriously detrimental for our economy and our long-term sustainability. Canada will be one of the hardest hit countries by climate change due to its extreme climate and distance from the equator, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  .
But only the Green Party has made any sort of tangible commitment to halting tar sands expansion and shifting domestic energy production to renewables – a transition that, according to a report written by 59 Canadian scientists  , could be completely accomplished within 20 years.
That being said, politicians and their parties are not fully to blame here. Yes, they are guilty of ignoring important issues, but what we the voters often fail to consider is that our federal politicians inhabit a system that pressures them to focus almost exclusively on a handful of “vote-deciding” issues.
Strategists and pollsters tell candidates which issues will resonate most with the demographics who tend to vote in large numbers, and those are the issues that are focused upon. This is why all three major parties have been targeting the loosely-defined “middle class,” while largely ignoring issues affecting the millions of Canadians who struggle to make ends meet: the working poor, students, homeless people, indigenous Canadians, and so on. These groups need the most help from government, yet receive the least.
Of all the parties, the Harper Conservatives are by far the most guilty of perpetuating this system. With their Fair Elections Act, they have made it harder for already disenfranchised groups to vote. Furthermore, by refusing to participate in public debates and forcing divisive social issues that only affect a handful of people to the forefront of their campaign, they ensure that the serious issues (the ones they’ve been botching for nine years) stay out of the spotlight.
As difficult a situation as this is, there is hope. Yes, the Harper government has failed to meet the needs of marginalized groups such as indigenous people (e.g. by failing to implement the Kelowna Accord) and women (e.g. by closing 12 of 16 Status of Women regional offices). However, the intense dislike of Harper felt by many across the country has spawned several national movements aiming to boost voter turnout and, in doing so, “heave Steve.” With first-day advance polling numbers up significantly from the last two elections, it seems like these campaigns have been quite successful.
While an NDP or Liberal win would be better than the alternative, the basic nature of Western politics more or less guarantees that no party will free us from this system that inhibits informed public debate and legitimate democratic process. Thankfully, there are simple actions we can take to push our politicians to do better.
First of all, vote. Just do it. It’s easy and it matters. But secondly and more importantly, keep up the fight after the election. Write letters, plan rallies, talk to your MP. Work inside and outside of the system. Keep the pressure on and get your friends to do the same. It’s not easy, but it may just save the country.
Mitchell van Ineveld is a student activist and Political Science/Economics major at the University of Winnipeg.