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What High Voter Turnout Tells Us About Canadian Politics

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Last night saw the highest voter turnout in recent Toronto memory, as John Tory swept into the mayor's seat and new blood flowed into the ranks of school board trustees. Like in the case of Manitoba's municipal elections last week or British Columbia's next month, yesterday's Ontario elections were the province-wide culmination of a long and winding road for thousands of people who filled the roles of candidates, activists, volunteers and, as the turnout suggests, voters.

When we typically think "politics" it's not a particularly vibrant or multifaceted picture that comes to mind. Instead, that word evokes the grim struggle for power on Parliament Hill or the questionable ethics of a staffer convicted of electoral fraud. We tend to paint politics with a single brush -- and the portrait that emerges is rarely flattering.

How can we leave room for the many people who make our democracy tick in less dramatic and explosive ways? How can we hear the stories of those who don't make the news?

That's where Samara's Everyday Political Citizen project comes in. Conducted coast to coast to coast and nearing the completion of its second year, the project strives to elaborate the definitions of politics and democracy in Canada from the ground up, crowd-sourcing hundreds of nominations for political citizens and showing some of the many thousands of ordinary people engaging in big and small ways in this country's rich political culture.

When we turn the focus to the growing list of nominees for Everyday Political Citizen, we can add to our assessment of politics people like 28-year-old Idil Burale, finalist for last year's contest and a candidate for city council in this month's Ontario municipal elections. For Burale, a first-generation Canadian and proud resident of Toronto's inner suburbs, democracy is "an act of continuous engagement that doesn't begin and end at an election." Burale acknowledges the value of the expanding our political horizons, adding that "everyday political acts are everyday social acts. Building community is an everyday political act."

Although Burale didn't make it onto council, her work in the community has still made waves and we're better for knowing her story. Reading her nomination for EPCitizen adds nuance to the cynical caricature that pervades so much of our understanding of public affairs in this country. And by noticing Burale's work, we realize that we might also want to leave room in our assessments for the thousands of others who take the time to get a bit political and make positive change in their communities.

Nor does our caricature of politics account for the artists, activists and teachers who -- while they aren't vying for office -- are making significant contributions to the understanding of elected people and the general public. People like Kat Lanteigne, who has taken her theatrical production TAINTED to Parliament Hill and Queen's Park in Toronto to teach politicians about the high stakes of proper regulation of blood collection. People like Richard Pietro, who spent his summer traveling across Canada on a motorcycle, educating people on the topic of Open Government. People like Neeta Kumar-Britten, a high school teacher from Cape Breton who engages her students in politics and was nominated as an EPCitizen by her own MP Mark Eyking. Or 12-year-old EPCitizen Tia Carey of Guelph (pictured above), who volunteers with the Green Party of Canada and who ran a mock election at her elementary school.

When we start paying attention to some of these stories, what emerges? A rich picture of a Canada full of meaningful and diverse ways to engage, with new political trails being blazed every day. Is this to say that all is rosy in Canadian politics? No -- to cover over the serious issues with our democracy would be just as inadequate.

Rather, the EPCitizen project shows there are abundant individuals, communities and organizations working to bring us a little closer to the country and politics we need. It shows us that there's much depth to a proper portrait of our democracy -- and that we should all pick up a brush rather than smudging the details.

For those who have just completed their run for office, EPCitizen is a great way to recognize volunteers from campaigns, to expand the story about our democracy to include the people whose faces weren't necessarily on the lawn signs. Nominations close this Friday and it only takes a moment to give someone great the recognition they deserve!


Toronto Election Night Photos
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