The voter fog

Do so many elections so close together leave us even more apathetic than usual?

Ayame Ulrich

We had a civic election less than a year ago. A federal election but a few months ago. Now we go provincial. So in the face of this cluster of elections, are we still listening? 

Well, let’s see.

Civically, we experienced the would-be heroics of hopeful Judy Wasylycia-Leis in an election that inspired many, though not enough to make her bid for mayor successful.

Federally, we bore witness to our political landscape changing significantly, making history with Liberal losses and NDP gains.

These noteworthy elections make me wonder whether we can really be apathetic right now. Let’s face it: politics have been interesting lately. 

Then again, you can never tell what will happen in an election based on the lead-up to it.

It felt like so many Winnipegers were behind Judy Wasylycia-Leis, found her green-oriented, poverty-focused platform inspiring – and yet the voter turnout for the civic election stalled at 47.1 per cent (which was in fact a boost from the 2006 election numbers).

The federal election piqued the interest of the voters, and the voter turnout went up from the 2008 federal election figures to 61.1 per cent (though, because the 2008 numbers were historically low, perhaps this isn’t saying much).

Even with the Liberals running a cardboard candidate, I can’t recall a more impassioned federal election, a fact made all the more memorable by Jack Layton’s death shortly thereafter.

In the wake of those two elections, there is much on the line provincially. If the PCs take this election, then we Winnipeggers will be dealing with Conservatives at every level of government: civic, provincial and federal. What an age we live in.

If we can believe the sampling taken by the Winnipeg Free Press last week, then even first-time voters – young people fresh out of high school – are under the spell of the PCs.

For various reasons, three of the five young people interviewed said that they would be voting for the provincial PCs in this election. The other two were undecided.

These youngsters showed an interest in issues such as crime and health care, and were concerned that their fellow teenagers do not. In other words, they were concerned that their fellow teenagers were apathetic toward politics, a syndrome with which many Manitobans are affected. 

Our last provincial election saw only 56.7 per cent of registered voters actually vote, and it would be surprising if this election yielded a higher turnout. Part of the problem is that there’s no angle for this election, no keynote issue that makes it of particular interest to perennial non-voters.

All we have provincially is a party that has been in power for 12 years, and opposition(s) dead set on taking advantage of this lengthy term by asking obvious yet impossible questions.

Yes, these are the essence of any election, but it seems insulting to everyone’s intelligence to inquire, “Why isn’t crime solved?” or “Why do we still have poverty?”

We must always remember that we are speaking about political parties here, and not God.

But perhaps these questions are intriguing to the public at large, and this provincial election will produce a historically high voter turnout, with voting stations around the province packed to the gills, taking in IDs and Hydro bills en masse, and the rumble of throats clearing will echo through the province, signalling the onset of a new era in which we all scrutinize what goes on behind the closed doors of the Legislative Building.

This is certainly possible. But I doubt it.

Trevor Graumann is The Uniter’s comments editor and a graduate of the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 66, Number 5 of The Uniter (September 29, 2011)

Related Reads