Voting rates, especially amongst working people, has been on the decline over the last 20 years. In the last three federal elections, around a third of the population did not vote, with the 2004 election ranking as the lowest voter turnout since the 1867 Confederation of Canada.
For people under the age of 30, non-voters are in the overwhelming majority – with roughly three quarters of young voters refusing to cast a ballot. Non-voting is also split along class lines. On average, the rich vote and the working class doesn’t.
The government, media, and academics give various reasons for the decline in voting, from the rise of television to the decline in newspaper readership to various other cultural changes. The solutions they offer range from more civic education classes in high schools, to bringing in some form of proportional representation.
Maybe the real reason workers don’t vote is more straightforward – and more fundamental. Maybe the reason so many working people don’t vote is because they see that none of the political parties represent their interests. This is not “apathy” – it’s a perfectly rational choice. Working people are not going to vote if none of the political parties deserve their support, no matter how many voting campaigns are carried out or what system of elections are used.
The conditions for working people in this country have been on the decline since the late 1970s – with stagnant wages and growing poverty. How have the parties responded to this? Once in power, every party, at every level of government, has not only done nothing to stop this decline – they brought in the policies that helped make it happen. The Liberals and the Conservatives have just been taking turns at shredding the social wage of the working class – cutting back on support for unemployed workers, making higher education more and more expensive, under-funding public transit, driving our healthcare system into crisis, refusing to build more affordable housing, the examples go on and on. The government – no matter which party is in control – always claims that this social wage needs to go because they don’t have the money. But when the monopoly corporations ask for subsidies, or if there’s a war against Third World people to fight, all of a sudden the money is found.
Little better can be expected out of the smaller parties such as the NDP or the Green Party. The NDP has shown it’s true colours from it’s time in provincial government – while making nice sounding promises, once in power they do little to benefit workers because to do so would upset the monopoly corporations that run the economy. Rather than fight back, they cave in. The Greens are no better. While they cloak themselves as a “progressive” party, the Greens are actually libertarians and even more right wing than the Conservatives.
So if voting doesn’t matter, what can people do? Organize! Organize in your workplace, in your schools, in your communities. Mass pressure works. Every issue of Basics has examples of mass struggles from all over the world that have organized their communities, won concessions from the state, and created new forms of people’s power. No matter which party wins the elections, the people will need to mobilize to defend their interests.