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Apathetic voters need inspiration

Election campaigns matter.

And if those campaigns are even mildly interesting with a message that can captivate the public, they can also provide some hope to voters that they are not powerlessness in the game of government.

The recent Quebec election provides some useful solace to a generally apathetic public that a campaign can make a difference and change the way a province is governed.

Over the last few elections, whether federal, provincial or municipal, politicians have garbled their message, taken voters for granted and become more disengaged from people. It has produced disturbing results. The 2011 Ontario voter turnout was a dismal 49.2 per cent, one of the lowest of all times.

In the latest Quebec provincial election, which saw a surprise Liberal party win, voter turnout edged down to 71 per cent from 2012’s 74 per cent, somewhat of a surprise considering the political earthquake Quebec politics was undergoing. Yet Quebec’s voter turnout is miles ahead of Ontario’s as apathy seems to rule Canada’s most populous province.

And in an ironic twist, during the Toronto municipal vote in 2010, mayoral candidate Rob Ford’s gravy train message forced voter turnout up from 35 per cent in 2006 to 53 per cent in 2010.

The voter turnout rates are not shocking considering the political paralysis Ontario’s parties have been locked into for much of the last decade. Instead of working co-operatively, the politics has taken on an adversarial, zero-sum game where scandals and gotcha publicity is the means to an end.

The result is an electorate that is more disengaged from the political process than ever before. In 2011, the people who didn’t vote in the Ontario election, about 28 per cent of them, said they were not interested in politics and 23 per cent said they were too busy. That’s a poor showing for what is suppose to be a government rooted in participatory democracy.

But as this week’s opening political salvos in Ontario’s latest election campaign reveal, it’s not surprising. Each main political party seems disengaged from the realities of the everyday lives of Ontarians.

No wonder people don’t vote. They feel powerless in an election game that it seems only the house rules. It’s even worse for the less educated, people who earn less money, and are less involved in social and other media. Those people hardly ever vote.

But a message can engage the voter, if even to a small degree. Respect the voter, reach out to people, allow for more ways to vote such as advance polling, stop the negative campaigning and maybe the public will respond.

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