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Credit: Flickr / Justin

“Are you registered to vote?” he asked.

Returning home from work yesterday evening, I looked up from my bike to see where the voice had come from. He was one of Jenny Kwan’s NDP campaign volunteers—the second to visit in the last week.

Unable to vote myself—darned this American passport!—I could only offer my two-cents on the provincial race, my issues of concern and a happy “thank you!” for the work he was doing to improve the health of our democracy.

As he walked away, a bright smile on his face, I was struck by the incredible gift of his visit. Here is a guy who looked about my age, dressed in the casual way of a Vancouverite, working to protect the most important instrument for a working, equitable society to date. Our right to vote.

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That right is perhaps modern society’s most potent weapon against the injustice, the power struggles, the abject poverty of tyranny; against the kings, queens and warlords who live off the backs of the struggling masses. And here was this dude, a pretty average guy, no different from lowly ol’ me, ensuring that his fellow Canadians’ right to vote is safe by engaging me in dialogue, addressing my concerns and generally connecting me to the political process.

Of course, he had a clear motive; a candidate whose agenda he wants put in action. But that doesn’t matter to me. I, just like any voting Canadian, can sort through the information, the differing platforms of each candidate and the rhetoric, and come to my own conclusions. That is part of the sacred pact of voting.

Informed citizens engaging in discourse is an implicit component of the democratic process. And yet, I must observe, that few people around me—with the exception of this eager NDPer—are upholding their end of the deal.

Where’s the conversation? I hear it on the radio, in the newspapers and online. But I’m not hearing it from the people who will actually (hopefully) vote on election day. Whereas the federal election sparked many a water-cooler debate, I’ve heard nary a peep about the issues at stake in this provincial election—only apathetic grunts, sideways smiles and sensationalized stories about the careless use of Facebook from friends, colleagues and coworkers who feel disenfranchised from the political process.

But how better to make a difference in your life and community than through thoughtful discourse? By allowing ourselves to not engage in the conversations that affect our livelihoods, we have relinquished the election to the hyperbolic end games scenarios presented by the media and to those playing silly politics. No wonder so few people vote; it doesn’t feel like their election.

But that’s not a good enough excuse. Voting is a right, yes, but it’s also a legacy. In her recent post, Home [Eco]nomics blogger Diane Selkirk offers some brilliant ideas for raising a voter, and most involve conversation. Raising a child—a future citizen—on the Socrates diet of discourse promotes greater awareness of their rights as individuals and their responsibility to the collective community.

But we don’t have to start young. We can start today. I invite you to instigate a discussion with your friends, family, neighbours, coworkers and bus-mates about the issues that affect your life: the economy, transportation, housing, the environment, education, child care, taxes, job security, and so on. Consider how your life is affected directly by these and how government can, is or could be facilitating them.

You don’t have to walk door-to-door like the NDP campaigner and having an opinion about these issues isn’t the point. In fact, reserving judgment can improve the quality of the conversation. Ask questions. Be direct. Be a working member of your province, someone who participates in the process. It’s time to have the conversation and to be transparent, open and honest about the issues that are important to us.

And after you’ve talked, don’t forget to get out and vote!
 

What issues are important to you in this provincial election?

Share your thoughts in the comment form below, and check back often for responses to your comments. Let’s get the conversation going!