The federal election of 2008 left in its wake a worrisome level of voter participation with the lowest turnout rate at the polls in our history. This was however just the most recent marker in a growing history of declining civic participation.
A decline in voter turnout began in the 1980s as the elections of 1984 and 1988 both saw turnout rates of over 75% which over the next 20 years would decline election after election until reaching just under 61% in June 2004.
The election of 2006 offered the first spike in turnout in over twenty years, reaching nearly 65%. This was still however much lower than the record highs of the 1950s and 60s when turnout reached 79% on three different occasions. Any hope there may have been for the return of widespread civic engagement in Canada was quashed when under 59% of voters turned out for the 2008 election.
Youth voter turnout, that is turnout for voters between the ages of 18 and 24 or ‘new voters’, is steadily decreasing as well. The level of turnout for this age bracket is lower than the general population and studies have shown that voters who tune out early rarely re-enter the voting world as they grow older. It remains to be seen where voter turnout levels may be in the years to come.
In a nation where 86% of the population view voting as their duty, why are less than two thirds of the electorate turning up to vote?
The purpose of this blog is to address problems such as low voter turnout but also acknowledge that civic engagement is a package with many components. It is as much about the current state of democracy in this country as it is about our civic history. It is as much about adapting our political system to the needs of modern society as it is about understanding how and why it formed as it did in the first place.
It is a look backwards, forwards and from all sides and goes beyond the hardened opinions and known options already on the table. It is about engagement but also about constant re-engagement. It is about simultaneously understanding where we’ve come from, participating where we are, and dreaming about where we could one day be.
In order to address the decline of Canadian civil society into a democratic deficit the discussion must be broadened and rejuvenated to pull the average citizen back into the process.
The re-engagement process with the Canadian electorate must begin before election day and never have an end-date. For a true reintroduction of civic engagement the discussion must be ongoing, 365 days of the year. It must be continual and have no bystanders, only a nation of participants.
The thoughtful exchange of ideas is as Canadian as the maple leaf or the flag it proudly waves on. It must again become a part of our national identity so that the civic pride that instituted responsible government, pushed for the creation the welfare state, repatriated the Constitution and repeatedly said ‘non’ to the breakup of our nation remains present and strong in the mind of every Canadian once more.