Result of 44th General Election
The arrogance of Justin Trudeau in calling a pandemic election was felt to the very end. He called it despite the legislation which provides fixed election dates, the motion in the House against holding a pandemic election, which even his party supported, and despite severe weather conditions and COVID-19 emergencies across the country.
The difficulties his election call imposed on those entrusted with delivering the election were felt right through to voting day and no doubt even now as the vote continues to be tallied.
Elections Canada reported on the eve of election day that it was about 40,000 people short of its goal for hiring election workers. It had to cut down on the number of voting locations to meet physical-distancing requirements and because some businesses, school boards and other organizations didn’t want to host voters during the COVID-19 crisis.
Elections Canada also had to reorganize the way polling stations were laid out, because of health restrictions, including placing only one deputy returning officer per table instead of two, which slowed down the processing of voters walking in the door.
Elections Canada reported that a record number of people — nearly 5.8 million, an increase of 18.5 per cent from the 2019 federal election — voted in advance polls. More than one million, said to be a greater number than ever before, also requested special mail-in ballots. Reports now indicate that not all of them were returned.
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The abstentionist vote
In this election, as of figures from Elections Canada updated at 2:25 pm September 22, between 59.52 and 62 per cent of registered voters cast ballots (taking into account the estimates of mail-in ballots). Of the 27,366,297 registered electors, about 38 to 40.5 per cent — between 10.4 and 11.1 million — did not vote.
After the 2019 election, Elections Canada reported that 90 per cent of absentee voters gave “reasons related to everyday life” and “reasons of a political nature” as answers to why they did not vote.
André Blais, who holds the Research Chair in Electoral Studies at the University of Montreal, says voter turnout has declined by around 10 per cent “in most democracies” since the 1980s. “Fifty years ago there were more people thinking in terms of voting as a duty. Now people are thinking more in terms of rights,” he said.
He added that a few countries have imposed compulsory voting to reverse the trend, notably Australia. “It’s obvious that it works, but like any remedy, it has its drawbacks,” he notes. “Those who are compelled to vote can vote quite randomly. And it hasn’t increased interest in politics,” he said. As an example, one non-voter said of the party leaders, “They all look alike. They all do their best with small differences. That makes me lose interest.”
Francis Dupuis-Déri, professor of political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal and author of Nous n’irons plus aux urnes – plaidoyer pour l’abstention (Vote No More — A Plea for Abstention) believes that the refusal to vote can hide a more pronounced politicization. “The community that holds the world record for abstention, according to my research, is the Mohawk of the Montreal region. They have abstention rates of up to 98 per cent.
“It is the same with the Maori in [New Zealand] or with Indigenous communities in the United States. We do not vote because we are in a colonial system, and we do not want to vote for the colonial power. It doesn’t represent us.”
We must not confuse abstention and indifference, he says. “People who do not vote are criticized a lot by saying that they are apolitical or that they do not think, but on the side of the people who vote, there are also some who do not think so much. They can vote for the same party, from family to family.”
Many thus fulfill their political duties “within social movements,” without exercising their right to vote, argues Dupuis-Déri, himself an abstentionist. He notes that at the end of the day, the lack of legitimacy caused by the abstention rate does not change much in the way the country is run.
“I have never managed to see any concrete impact on the government’s ability to govern, to impose its laws, to wage wars, to appoint ministers, to accept bribes. They have exactly the same power whether they have five per cent, 20 per cent or 40 per cent abstention.”
André Blais believes for his part that “if we fell below 50 per cent [electoral participation], we would ask enormous questions” about the legitimacy of the party in power.
In fact, this is already the case.
(Facts and quotations from Le Devoir, September 20 and translated from original French by Renewal Update.)
Renewal Update, September 22, 2021
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