“Good morning. Welcome,” said the kindly man at the door to the polling station. “Would you care to sanitize?”
We did. We were at the Saanich fairgrounds at the advance poll. A week earlier I’d been traipsing through this same hall looking at prize chrysanthemums and begonias (I think – flowers were never my strong point) and zucchini at the Saanich Fair.
Now the hall had been transformed into a large voting centre, with small tables set far apart for the polling clerks
“Hello,” said one of the women at the polling table. “Oooh, are you related to Paul Haysom?” We are. “My husband will be so chuffed,” she said. “We watch him every morning on television.”
Chuffed? That’s an English expression — meaning, very pleased — I haven’t heard for a long time. I was quietly, proudly chuffed too.
I was also chuffed to be voting in this very pleasant, civilized manner. I picked my candidate, made an X, slipped it into the cardboard voting box, and then walked out.
“Have a wonderful day,” said the man on the way out.
This is how we elect our governments in this country. Or how we should. In a quiet, friendly, way.
It’s the opposite of Afghanistan, where, as we’ve seen lately, terror and guns and violence and fear are how you gain power.
It’s far superior to, say, the United States which hails itself as a bastion of freedom and democracy but where its elections degenerate into a mass of confusion, with lawsuits and allegations of voter fraud or manipulation or vote-buying, and that’s before the Russians have had their undemocratic interference.
Here, we go into small voting halls near our homes and prove we are who we say we are with our driving licences, and then we go quietly into a small voting booth and have our say on who should govern us for the next few years.
Sure, the campaign is loud. And too often vitriolic. There are promises that won’t be kept and vilifications and small dramas along the way. There are those who would disrupt, those who would shout down, those who will stamp their feet, but in the end, we get there and watch the results unfold on our TV screens and computers and radios. And we’re happy or unhappy and then we all get on with our lives.
It isn’t perfect. By now we should have had some form of proportional representation in this country so that all could be heard. I also still have some problems with separating the local candidate from the national leader. I may like the local candidate but not wish to vote for the national party or leader – or vice versa – but there’s no easy way around that under parliamentary democracy. It may not, as Winston Churchill said, be perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives.
We should never take democracy for granted. We, in the far west, may still feel a major disconnect from the centre of this country, but we’re still very much Canadians first. We care that the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team won Olympic gold or that a kid who plays tennis from Ontario didn’t win.
Often, new immigrants, particularly refugees from troubled, conflict-ridden lands, treasure this democracy more than we who have grown up in a peaceful country that, for all its troubles and challenges, works well.
Many think our votes won’t count. That the NDP or Liberals or Greens or Conservatives will win our riding easily, so why bother. Our candidate may have no hope.
We are seeing in many of our western democracies the disturbing rise of far-right extremism, of dangerous factions playing to the worst fears of the electorate. We’ve been there before. And we’ve seen it, dangerously up close, to our south. We need to ensure all voices are heard, not just the loudest.
Yes, we may be cynical about politicians and political shenanigans, but this is nothing new. Your vote is one of the most precious possessions you will ever have. And it matters. Even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
On the way back home we saw a campaign sign for Green candidate Elizabeth May, the clear favourite in the riding, though nobody takes anything for granted these days, and she has some formidable opposition.
Someone had drawn a moustache on May’s smiling face.
I suppose that’s making a statement, though I’m not sure what exactly. It actually made me smile. Because it was silly and pathetic. Vandalism, sure, and not to be applauded, but it made me notice the sign and have some sympathy for the candidate. So it had the absolute opposite effect.
It’s not the first moustache. It won’t be the last.
Drawing an X on a piece of paper in a hall where they were recently showing off zucchinis would have been a much more powerful statement.
Ian Haysom is consulting editor with CHEK Media.