Are Ontario voters actually listening to the provincial candidates who want to govern this province?
It’s a salient point since for the last 20 years the public has effectively tuned out their representatives and practically dropped out of the democratic process altogether.
In the 1971 provincial election the turnout rate was a robust 73 per cent. Except for a few statistical blips in the 1980s, people willing to cast their ballot has slowly tumbled. In 1990 the turnout rate was 64 per cent, in 2003, it was 56 per cent, in 2007 it was 52 per cent and in 2011 it was 49 per cent. That means out of 8.7 million people eligible to vote in Ontario, only 4.1 million people actually did.
Yet in a strange twist, as the province has made voting easier each election cycle, people continue to turn away in droves. In 2005 premier Dalton McGuinty established fixed election dates that were supposed to woo voters back to the polls. It didn’t work. Elections Ontario has added more advance polling days, more days to vote by mail and additional days to vote by special ballot. All to no avail.
There have been serious discussions about implementing Internet voting or to penalize people who don’t vote, as Australia does.
But fixing how to vote isn’t the answer to the disease of a lack of citizen engagement. As these past few weeks have shown, the political leaders and parties are simply not listening to the public who have become hard-hearted against politics and a system that excludes them from something they don’t understand.
And can you blame voters for shutting off the noise? All the talk seems to be of scandals — gas plants, e-health, Ornge, the potential MaRS bailout — rather than substantive issues. Voters are choosing to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the constant flow of political cattiness emanating from politicians’ mouths.
Even where the candidates do talk about issues, their solutions have no bearing on the economic reality people are suffering. While parts of Ontario are experiencing a generational shift in economic dislocation — Hamilton, Windsor, St. Catharines, Thunder Bay, Sudbury — the party leaders are talking about job cuts, tax increases, and throwing more money at phantom programs that bear no relation to what people are actually experiencing.
There is an unsettling possiblity that voter turnout for the June 12 election will hit a new low, continuing a disturbing trend that reveals government is disconnected from the very people it is supposed to serve. A more frightening situation is the public is turning its back on the very democratic traditions that are supposed to protect their rights and freedoms. Without a supportive populous, any governing party is an emperor without any clothes.