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This Federal Election May Be the Beginning of Our Turnaround

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Elections Canada

The big day is coming -- October 19 -- and it remains to be seen if Canadians will show up in significant enough numbers to fight for the kind of nation they want. Many aren't holding their breath. Among the most troubling signs of democratic dysfunction has been the ongoing decline in voter turnout. Millions of Canadians use the sorry state of the political establishment as their reason for staying home, and not without reason.

But there's more. For all the justifications we use for losing interest in political developments, the sad reality is that if enough citizens showed up at the ballot box, the political parties couldn't get away with half of what they do now. There would be the sense that the country was truly paying attention, that their actions in Parliament and in their ridings as politicians were held to a high standard and focused attention.

Following the 2011 election, a Samara Canada survey pointed to one of the sources of our problem. Most of the respondents never had political discussions around their dinner table, and only 40 per cent of admit they've had even a single conversation about politics in the last year. Ouch!

To the list of political representatives and parties with whom we say we are disappointed must be added another classification: ourselves. Surely we are better than this, more on guard for our nation than what we are presently showing.

But perhaps things are changing. Reports from advance polls across the country report significant increases -- some up 35 per cent -- from the 2011 election. Some pundits who stated two weeks ago that it would be difficult to state that this would be an election about "change" must be reconsidering by now. It could well be that those seeking something different in their politics are somewhat disappointed in their own disengagement and have decided to personally wage the fight to take their country back by moving directly to the ballot box.

It's time to expect better of our representatives and ourselves, where we seek a new kind of democracy that depends on the citizenry more than in decades past, and where politicians comprehend the seriousness of representing those constituencies that elect them. It is perhaps time to recognize that the greatest gift we give our country is ourselves -- our collective interest, sense of urgency, belief in our ability to solve our greatest problems together, and the personal will to stay engaged when the election banners have all come down and the next federal mandate is already underway.

Could we as a people, despite our many distinctions, be giving birth to a new kind of revolutionary optimism, to the belief we recognize that the political estate can only be as collaborative, visionary, or as engaged as we are? If so, and if the advanced polls are any indication, we could be building our own "Field of Dreams," but with one great distinction. In any great political moment, it's never about building something that others will come to ("If you build it, they will come"), it's about the clear opposite: "If we come, they will build it."

When the political order witnesses voters appearing in significant enough numbers, and remaining engaged, the politicians themselves will have to reflect that emerging reality, regardless of political pressure to do otherwise. Perhaps Canadians are no longer an exhausted and disillusioned people, but citizens who dare to prepare themselves for the dreams they wish to enjoy, who understand that their greatest challenge is from within, and who seek to align themselves collectively with the aspirations they have for their children and grandchildren.

As Mark Kingwell put it:

"Citizenship is a way of meeting one of our deepest needs, the need to belong; it gives voice and structure to the yearning to be part of something larger than ourselves ... It is, in short, one of the critical ways humans go about creating a life for themselves."

Perhaps this federal election will be the beginning of our turnaround. If so, we'd best start creating; the politicians will then follow.


In Photos: Canada Election 2015
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