Every time we have an election of any sort (municipal, provincial, federal, etc.) we are bombarded with local news stories of the "average citizen" and their view of the election. Invariably at least one of the people will give the old cliche :"It's our right as citizens to vote!" and usually the other cliche: "If you don't vote you have no right to complain".
And yet I did not vote in the recent municipal election. I choose not to vote. Yes it was a conscious choice not to vote, not that I forgot to.Unlike many Canadians, my choice not to vote is not derived from the belief that my vote doesn't matter. In fact, I feel this to be one of the most destructive of all voter myths. If we feel that we're not being fairly represented, how can we ever win if we give up altogether. But I digress..
And it is not that I am not a politically inclined person. I am a fourth year Political Science major who would like to continue in the field. I am involved with political parties and numerous social rights and national lobby/interest groups. So why didn't I exercise my "right" as a citizen?
"Our right as citizens" is the common rallying cry of many as they go to the ballot boxes. While citizens are eager to tell you their rights, they often forget their responsibilities as citizens. You have the right to check off the little box next to a candidate, however you also have an obligation to know who and what you are voting for. Far too many voters vote on election day without doing their research on the candidate they are choosing to support: Who are they? What do they say they stand for? What does their record say about them? What is their agenda? Are they capable of holding office? Also every voter has the responsibility to know what the current issues are in the upcoming term of office, and who can best represent the constituency as a whole in regards to those issues.
All too often citizens remember their right and forget their obligation. And by being informed, I mean going beyond reading the pamphlet dropped off by the candidate, or basing decisions about the candidate on a five minute conversation. Without a doubt these are part of becoming informed on a candidate and the issues, however they are by no means a comprehensive look at them. To be informed means finding out who these people really are. The news media can facilitate this, but be weary of relying on only one source, as they can only give their perspective on the issue (openly biased or not). I am not saying that only academics should be allowed to vote, a constituency is composed of more types of citizens than just academics, everyone has the right to be heard because everyone has the ability to inform themselves.
In the last municipal election I was not informed on municipal issues and candidates, and I accepted this. Hopefully those who did go to the ballot box were. I know I had the right as a citizen to vote, but as a citizen I am obligated to be informed, which I was not. I would have been abusing my right if I had voted, and worse, I would have been hurting my fellow citizens.
Many people say that because I didn't vote, I now have no right to complain. But this is one of the most ridiculous myths ever perpetuated by democratic societies. By saying this, are we not also admitting that we essentially elect a dictatorship every three or four years? Is government only responsible to its citizens when the politicians jobs are on the line? This is either ridiculous or a sad statement on how well our government represents its citizens. If we are truly citizens, we have every right to voice our opinion and expect our government to do what's best for us, regardless of whether or not we exercise every right we have.
So please, if you want to be a good citizen, don't just go through the motions. To be a good citizen means that you have obligations and responsibilities, these obligations are why we have rights as citizens in the first place. It is the citizens who protect and uphold the system, not the government.