Editorial Comment

U.S. is number one


For most Canadians, Election Day is kind of a pain in the butt. It’s one more stop on the way home from work or another place a busy mom or dad has to take the kids to that they’d rather not. Not that the act of voting isn’t a great way to start a dialogue with your kids about the democratic process, but if there’s a long line up and no ride at the end, it may be a tough sell. Still, most of us, albeit in dwindling numbers, show up to cast our ballot and then get on with our life. It certainly isn’t the highlight of our day, unless you actually won the election or, to a lesser degree, to have been a campaign worker for a winner. Sadly, for too many, voting is much too onerous a chore for them to consider.
Contrast that with the reaction to voting that the Libyan people displayed last week. According to a report in The Tripoli Post, people were joyously voting in the first elections since the ousting and subsequent summary execution of long-time Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan people treated the day as one of festival and celebration. Voters were shaking hands, congratulating one another and showing off their ink-stained digit that indicated they’d voted. Citizens dip their forefinger into semi-permanent ink to prevent people from voting more than once in that nation. For the Libyan people, that inked finger was a badge of honour.
“It is Eid,” one man claimed, referring to the Arabic word for festival, particularly festivities centered on the last day of the long fast of Ramadan. “People are congratulating each other as they arrive in the voting station some of them wearing new cloths and upbeat,”
“Look at the lines. Everyone came of his and her own free will. I knew this day would come and Gaddafi would not be there forever,” stated government worker, Riyadh al-Alagy, in a Washington Post story. “He left us a nation with a distorted mind, a police state with no institutions. We want to start from zero.” 
The Post report did mention there had been some violence in the less stable eastern part of the African nation. However, every dispatch available indicated the elections were well run, efficient and savoured by the electorate. They were also extremely well-attended although exact figures were not immediately available. People were excited. Women voters, segregated to their own polling stations, ululated in joy. Men would stuff their pockets with sweets for the children. 
Of course this is just a joyous first step; much like a wedding being a day of joy as a prelude to the hard work it takes to maintain a long term relationship.  That is exactly what most of these celebratory Libyans are looking for, too. They want a long term relationship with democracy and freedom. Having seen that light of freedom, finally, after forty-two years in the darkness under Gaddafi, it’s easy to see why it would feel like the carnival just hit town for these long-suffering people.
Can you imagine here in Canada, anyone getting as excited about our elections as they were in Libya? If you had peanut scrambles and candy-tosses for the kiddies just because it was voting day, people would think you were strange. Being so thrilled to wait in line to vote that you engage in joyful singing might even get you carted off as being unstable. Apparently, choices on a ballot are like oxygen. Neither is all that big of a deal unless you’re not getting any.
So what can we do to make democracy cool again? How can we convince people who are accustomed to being blasé about the democratic process that it really matters, not just for our nation, but for them as individuals? The old adage that “we get the government we deserve”, which dates back to Shakespeare (in his play Julius Cesear) is still as true today as when the bard first penned it in the 1500’s.
It’s going to be difficult. It’s a lot more fun to talk about football scores around the office water cooler than how badly the government mis-handled the F-35 file or how dictatorial they appeared with their omnibus crime bill. Try and get someone to talk about Tom Mulcair. (Apparently he’s dropping the “Thomas” to appear less hoity-toity.) It will be challenging. Apathy abounds.
The problem is that a politically unaware, apathetic population is ripe to be manipulated at great cost to the common good. It is the responsibility of all citizens of every democratic nation, not just to vote, but to keep abreast of their government’s activities. It is too important a function to leave to the the media, the intelligentsia and the political junkies. It is maddening when people admit they don’t vote because “they don’t follow it”. 
Don’t follow it? Really? It’s not a serialized TV show. It’s your hard-earned dollars being spent by these people, and if you, me and everyone else doesn’t follow it, the politicians will spend our money so wantonly, drunken sailors would be disgusted at their largesse.
Don’t believe it? Check out the merging story of the billions of dollars being paid out to Canadian civil servants, for “severance pay” for jobs they still occupy. Apparently it’s a union benefit that has existed for years. 
So it’s worth saluting the joyful Libyans as they turn their election into a cause célèbre. It’s such a shame it highlights how complacent Canadians have become.

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