Mark Your Ballot or Eat Your Ballot?

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We asked this question to people as part of the inaugural Siafu on the Streets poll (page 4). Tongue-in-cheek to be sure, but it speaks to an important question: how much value do we place in our democratic system, and how much power do our votes really hold?

As we head to the polls on March 26, this is a crucial question. Voter turnout, while still a relatively high 70 percent in the 2003 Quebec elections, was nearly ten percent lower than in 1998 - a significant drop. Considerable pressure has been applied over the past few years to bring in electoral reforms – like proportional representation – that would place more power in individual votes. The process has been slow, and isn’t helped by the fact it’s often unfavorable to the ruling party. While the Liberals won 46 percent of the popular vote in 2003, they received over 60 percent of the seats. The PQ wasn’t much better, actually losing the overall popular vote to the Liberals in the 1998 elections, but still winning a majority of seats.

During the long wait for electoral reform, if we are to keep voting, our best recourse is to be as informed as possible: we should know what we are voting for, or, at least, voting against. The media play an important role in this, and a crucial aspect is the televised leadership debate. While debates in the age of television are often won on the merits of snappy sound-bites and good hair, they still provide a forum where political leaders can both challenge each other and receive province-wide exposure. That’s why the recent decision of the telecommunications consortium organizing the debate to exclude both the Green Party and Quebec Solidaire is so concerning.

It is astounding that two parties who poll a combined near-15 percent, representing roughly 900,000 voters, are not able to challenge the leading parties and show their merit in a televised debate. Beyond a simple numbers game, both parties present crucial alternatives on important issues, including the environment, education and health care. Françoise David, one of two spokespeople for Quebec Solidaire, would also be the first woman to participate in a provincial leaders’ debate. Women in Quebec were only granted the vote in 1949; 60 years later, shouldn’t we have made enough progress to ensure that women are included in the highest ranks of political debate and leadership?

If all this makes you just want to throw away your ballot in despair, then look no further than this issue’s Toolkit by Sabine Friesinger: “Three Point Plan to Taking Matters into Your Own Hands.” And in the end, for some people, not voting is exactly how they hope to send a strong message that the entire system must be overhauled. While these vocal abstentionists are often seen as removing themselves from the equation, their voices cannot be discounted as they speak for many who feel that no matter who is elected, the problems remain the same.

Ideally our whole issue would be chock-full of election-related goodies, but like everyone else, Jean Charest kept us guessing for so long about whether the writ would drop that he caught us with our pants down. This issue’s cover story, luckily, does deal with one of Quebec’s perennially hot election issues: the future of public healthcare. In “Public Health or Private Wealth,” Carolyn Elaine Morris tracks the recent moves towards a more privatized health care system (initiated by the PQ, entrenched by the Liberals, and espoused by the ADQ), and the dangers that a weakened public health system could hold for us all.

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Did you vote? Did you eat your ballot? Did you stay home in bed? We want to know! Send us your letters at letters@siafu.ca!