Get out the vote

By Theresa Wells

There is a phrase often used during election campaigns. It is made of four very simple words, but those four words capture what every single election at every level of government actually means. Those words? “Get out the vote”.

Now in most places this means getting people to the polls on election day, ensuring that they have the opportunity to cast their ballot. Each side does everything they can to “get their vote out”, from arranging rides to the polls to offering to watch voter’s kids. In many places the drive to get out the vote really only exists in the last few days of the election, but here in Fort McMurray I think it’s a drive we need to begin early – because we have another election headed our way, and this time it’s a big one.

When our Member of Parliament resigned in January he left a vacancy that will need to be filled through a by-election. There are likely some who think this is a waste of time given that a general federal election is not far away, but I would argue that far from being trivial this by-election is crucial – because the country will be watching it.

The next federal election is anything but certain. There are some who are convinced we will see a change in government, and others who believe the status quo will be maintained. Whatever occurs, though, the by-election in our region will be considered an indicator of the election to come. You can guarantee we will see visits from our federal party leaders during the campaign, and intent interest in the political climate in our part of the world. And the one thing I don’t want the rest of the country to see is apathy.

To say that our federal representation in this region was lacklustre in the last few years is to be a bit charitable. There seemed to be more focus on flyers containing what was dubbed “vanity crossword puzzles” than on the issues affecting this region and our communities. It was deeply disappointing, considering that this part of the country has tremendous significance for the economy of the entire nation. The industry we are fortunate enough to steward has far reaching impacts across this country, and we need strong representation in order to achieve our goals and address our issues. This is our opportunity to do so, and we can do it while the nation watches to see which way the wind blows in this region to the north.

Of course this election will also encompass other areas, like Athabasca and Lac La Biche, places that have some of the same issues we do, and some that are quite different, and so we need representation that can understand that their mandate covers quite a wide territory both in terms of geography and politics. There are many rumours flying about who will run for nomination for which party, but as of yet there have been no announcements or confirmation of any of those rumours. But when there is, and even before there is, I hope for one thing. I hope for people to begin to get out the vote.

It can be as simple as getting educated on the issues, and brushing up on your Grade Six class that covered federal politics. It can be as involved as signing up for a party and being part of the process in choosing the candidate. It can be as in-depth as working on a campaign and functioning as a team to see your candidate elected to Parliament. Or, it can be just as simple as showing up at the polls on the day the election is held, and marking an “X” next to the name that you believe will best represent you. What it should not be is apathy.

I know it has been said time and time again, but people in other countries are fighting and dying for the right to vote. It is a right we take so for granted, and in a way that I suspect some would consider downright unbelievable given their own inability to simply express their views through democracy. On occasion when I encounter people who say they do not bother to vote I can barely hide my contempt when they follow that statement with a litany of complaints about the very things their vote could affect.

The federal by-election has not yet been called, but it will be, and likely fairly soon. The different parties are already organizing, buzzing with activity as potential candidates are discussed, memberships are sold and the process begun to see nominees through the nomination decision and right into the election campaign. This might seem early in the game, but I think the time is right. It is time to get out the vote, and frankly I don’t think we have a moment to waste.

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