October 21st is just a month away. Why is that day special you ask? It’s Election Day, my fellow Canadians!
In the hectic hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it can feel like politics don’t need to be a priority. The average person may not notice much of a difference when governments exchange power, laws pass or policies change, making it easier to ignore our political landscape. However, there is a privilege to feeling like politics don’t apply to your life when for many, even the slightest of policy changes can result in catastrophic damage to their ability to survive, let alone thrive. As well, there are still many places in the world where democracy is a dream, not a reality, and people of all walks of life continue to fight for a right that many of us feel like we don’t have the time for.
Feeling guilty yet? If so then phase one of my plans is complete – you’re thinking about getting up and voting in this election! Voter turnout in Canada has dropped to record lows since 2000, hitting a historic bottom of 58.8% in 2008, and still sitting below 70% as recently as the last election. We can, and we must, do better. So now that you’ve got voting on the brain, onto the next phase: education. We’ve put together a handy little guide of some important things you need to know before you head to the polls this October.
Who is able to vote?
The baseline for voting is pretty simple: you must be a Canadian citizen, and you must be 18 years of age on election day. You’ll need identification confirming who you are to vote, which can be a barrier for some. Reach out to Elections Canada if that’s a concern, and check here to see what type of ID is acceptable (there are more options than you may think). Elections Canada has a handy guide for first time voters here, including the different languages in which voter information can be found (great for newcomers to Canada) and where young people can vote (great for those just turning 18). Elections’ Canada is running a campaign called “It’s Our Vote”. It’s an all-around awareness campaign to new voters as well as prospective politicians, reminding everyone that democracy is ours to partake in.
How does our electoral system work?
In Canada we use a system called First Past the Post (FPTP) which means that we don’t actually get to check a box for the party leader, we have to vote for the candidate in our riding, likely representing one of the 4 parties we mentioned above. The person who wins the most votes in that riding goes on to become a Member of Parliament, winning the seat that represents that riding in the government. The party with the most members of parliament elected forms a government and the leader of that party then becomes our Prime Minister. If you need further explanation, you’re not alone, so here’s a School House Rock style video from our friends at TVO that you might find helpful.
And here’s the Wikipedia link on Canada’s Electoral System for further reference.
Who can I vote for?
While it sometimes seems like we live in a country separated solely by blue and red parties, there are actually several political parties that one can vote for. Elections Canada has the full list here. Since voting is so personal, it’s wise to research the big 4 (Conservative Party of Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, New Democratic Party and the Green Party) but it’s also just wise to jump on a voting compass like this one to see what party you seem to vibe with, then take your research from there.
Who should I vote for?
We would never tell you who to vote for, that’s an extremely personal choice. We only recommend studying the platforms of not only all federal parties and their leaders but the platforms and campaigns of the individuals in your own riding, because that’s who your vote actually goes to support. Vote with your values and what you want for yourself and Canada. All we ask is that you please educate yourself to the best of your ability before making that choice. And I don’t just mean reading the facebook posts of your most politically active friends because again, voting is personal. The rest of the Internet is a great resource though. Check out Maclean’s, who have put together a great roundup on all the major parties and where they stand on important issues here, or CBC.ca for more comprehensive summaries of the different parties, their platforms and another great voting compass to help you see where your views and values fit on the Canadian political spectrum.
What is Strategic Voting and should I do it?
When you’re thinking about being strategic with your vote, you’ve got to keep the nature of Canada’s electoral system in mind, because it’s not just about voting “against” the party (or person) you don’t want to win. The first past the post system follows the rules of a simple majority, where a majority is achieved when the highest number of votes cast for any one party exceeds the second-highest number of votes. That means a party can form a majority government even if they didn’t win more than 50% of the vote, they just have to have more votes than the next party. And that’s where strategic voting comes in. Canadians often find themselves voting for a party (even though we technically vote for a candidate) not because they believe in the party but because they are afraid someone they disagree with will become Prime Minister.
In Canada, we have three main parties, two of which are more progressive, which can split the vote on the left, and provide the right with a simple majority and the ability to form a government. So, instead of voting for the candidate we want to win, we’ll vote for the candidate we think has the best shot of winning or at least beating the candidate/party that we don’t like. We’re doing this because we’re thinking about who we hope will be Prime Minister, because our voting system doesn’t actually let us vote for a PM.
Should you vote strategically? We can’t tell you that. What we can say is this if you’re choosing to vote strategically, you’re likely doing so based on polling, which can be inaccurate at times. Then, you’re taking a chance voting for someone you may not even want to vote for. On the other hand, if you choose to vote with your conscience, you may claim a small moral victory, but it’s possible that the party you disagree with may just win as a result. In the end, the only person who can make that choice is you. We just think you should make that decision an informed one.
What if I don’t want to vote for anyone?
A common misconception (that I held myself until now) was that one could spoil or decline their ballot in a federal election. Sorry, Ontarians that engaged in this form of voter protest in this past election, but that’s not an option here. If you spoil your ballot, it just goes in the reject pile, any sign of its demise’s intent known only to the voter. If you’re really struggling with who you should vote for, all I can recommend is researching more, and educating yourself about all the things we’ve discussed here, and truly learning what your options are, before deciding to stay home instead of exercising your right to vote.
Voting time and location options:
According to the Elections Canada Website, there are several ways we can vote in the upcoming election. There are options when it comes to timing, location and even the method by which you can vote. I’ve compiled some here, but make sure to check that website again for more detailed information.
When can I vote?
Election Day is October 21st, 2019 so, of course, that is a day we can vote at our various polling stations (more on that later). If for whatever reason that isn’t an option for you, or if maybe you just want to vote earlier, you can take part in the Advanced Polls, open between Friday, October 11 and Monday, October 14, daily from 9am to 9pm. You can even vote any time during the election period (now until October 21st) at one of 500 Elections Canada offices across the country or by mail throughout the same period.
Where can I vote?
Every registered voter is assigned a polling station in proximity to their address. You should receive a voter information card in the mail with that information, or you can check voter information services after October 2nd. Your voter information card will also have the location of Advanced Polling stations if you are voting early. As mentioned above you can also apply to vote at an Elections Canada office near you, or by mail ahead of election day. Students can vote on their university or college campus between October 5th and 9th (available to everyone, not just students). Elections Canada will also make allowances and create accommodations for those working in remote places or observing religious or cultural practices that may prevent them from voting by traditional means. Learn how to apply for these options or request accommodations here.
If I am Canadian but no longer live in Canada, can I vote?
If you’re a Canadian living abroad, fear not, you can vote by mail. Simply apply to Elections Canada, online or at one of the many Canadian embassies and consulates around the world, for your special voting kit. The deadline is October 15th.
I’m working on Election Day, how can I vote?
If you are one of many Canadians that will be working on Election Day, your employer is obligated to let you leave to vote and ensure that time away from work is paid. Under the Canada Elections Act, ss.132-134 voters are entitled to three consecutive hours free from work during voting hours to cast their ballots. Your employer does have the discretion to determine when you can take these 3 hours but they must allow you to take them.
Does your vote matter?
Yes! Especially if you’re a millennial, housing may be out of your reach, not thanks to your love of avocado toast, but because of economic issues far beyond your control. This is an election that could be decided by millennials if they choose to get out and vote. According to Abacus Data, millennials make up 27.5% of the Canadian population but a whopping 37% of the electorate. That means that those of us between 19 – 39 could swing the election if we get out there and actually vote.
The biggest complaint I hear from friends, family, Twitter, etc. is that our votes don’t matter. But the thing is, they actually do. If you were born between 1980 – 2000 you’re part of the largest segment of eligible voters, and you can swing the vote. The issues that matter most to Millennials may not matter to Gen X and Boomers. Don’t let them decide who runs our country because some random person once told you that your vote won’t matter.
For more information on voting in Canada, to register and do all the things necessary to exercise your right to vote, visit https://www.elections.ca/. Start with the “Everything a voter should know” and end at the FAQ . Vote. Not just because you can, but because you want a say in what happens next. And EVERY vote matters. See you at the polls Canada!
Written with contributions from Shannon Hunter. Shannon is a freelance digital strategist and writer living and working in Toronto, she’s written for several leading publications, View the Vibe, AdWeek, She Does The City, on a variety of subjects that impact women, marketers, and Canadians. When she’s not working she spends the majority of her time exploring the city with her rescue dog, Jersey.