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Natalia Yanchak

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I Don't Understand Why You Pay Heavy Taxes and Still Don't Vote

Posted: 03/21/2014 12:31 pm

Maybe I was a bigger nerd than most, but when I turned 18, I was really excited to finally be able to vote. As a teen in Toronto, I went down to the polling stations at the Polish church on Bloor St W, or to the Keele Community Centre, and always voted. Even if I barely knew what I was voting for, I knew it was my duty as a citizen, as a Canadian, to give at least the smallest toss about politics. I also began doing my taxes, which I looked forward to. At the time I liked filling out forms. Today, not so much.

As citizens of the "free world" -- North Americans, at least -- we have a great power bestowed upon us: the right to vote. Yet this basic right is often taken for granted. Understandably, enacting one's support for politicians can be frustrating, but fundamentally they are chosen by us to manage our tax dollars. And listen up: you pay taxes. Even if several years delinquent on your income taxes (unlike 18-year-old me), everything you buy has a range of taxes and tariffs included in the price you are paying. Essentially if you don't vote it's because you couldn't care less about, well, anything. You might as well become a feral anarchist. Goodbye. Have fun living alone in the forest. With no internet. (which, incidentally, is taxable).

While some may swirl away in these #YOLO daydreams, a harsh reality reveals itself: Canada has a voter turnout problem. Historically, Canada has an approximate average turnout of 74 per cent, ranking it 30th among democratic countries worldwide (the highest being Malta at 94 per cent). In our last federal election turnout was a paltry 61.1 per cent. No wonder PM Harper is still in there. Canadians couldn't care less.

When I gather this sentiment from peers and friends -- young people, artists, musicians, thinkers -- that they didn't vote, I am endlessly frustrated. What is preventing people from voting? "All the candidates are losers," they say, or: "I spoiled my ballot," which at least is closer to the mark than not voting at all.

Having lived in Montreal for nearly two decades, my biggest moment of "Rage Against Apathy" came after the last provincial election -- hot on the heels of the Maple Spring, when Montreal's student and young adult population took to the streets to protest tuition increases. The generally peaceful protests cast a larger shadow, vocalising a general discontent with governmental ways. But the real frustration set in when, after walking the streets of my neighbourhood, talking with protesters, ruining cookware, and listening to their voices, many of these people still did not vote.

Were the protesters faking it? I lost a little respect for the "red squares" because few stood behind the cause. People cared enough to march around for hours but could not care enough to march for 10 minutes to the polling station around the corner. Granted, overall voter turnout for the post-Casseroles election did increase: youth aged 18 to 35 turned out at an average rate of about 64 per cent in the 2012 provincial election, compared to about 42 per cent in the 2008 elections. Overall turnout in 2012 stalled at 74.6 per cent.

The moment Pauline Marois pinned that little felt square onto her lapel, everyone's hearts melted and suddenly young people thought that she cared. The PQ put a Band-aid on the problem by shutting down the hikes. Which, ironically, would be meaningless in an "independent" Quebec -- university tuitions would increase drastically should federal transfer payments to Quebec be discontinued. But I digress.

All this, taken together, is the irony of politics. At the end of the day politics is just business and asset management. The frenzied actions of politicos asserting their salaried positions in office. It's plain to see how this stuff can appear totally boring to young people. Politicians have been suitably branded as "uncool" and therefore not worth it. Blame PM Harper's normcore hairstyle and his World's Most Boring News Capsule, 24 Seven. Or that Quebec's Liberal leader Philippe Couillard reeks of "dad" and PQ's Pauline Marois is a snore (except in GIF form). And the other two? Bandwagoners.

I decided to call someone who cares. Alison Maynard is part of the Vote It Up campaign, created by the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) in association with Quebec's Chief Electoral Office. Vote It Up is a non-partisan organisation aimed at the specific demographic of 18-35 year old anglophones in the upcoming provincial election. I asked Alison why young people aren't voting:

"Accessibility and motivation are the top two reasons why youth are less likely to vote. Generally there is a lack of motivation, in that youth don't see a significant difference between political parties, and don't have an enjoyable experience throughout the process of voting.

"According to Elections Canada, youth are more likely to vote when they are contacted directly by a political party. If there is low voter turn-out by youth, political parties are not reaching out enough to this demographic. For the first time, polling stations will be setup in educational institutions across the province, which will hopefully increase youth voter turn-out."

In an attempt to remedy this, Vote It Up is running a comprehensive social media campaign, as well as offering a rundown of each major party's platform. The info has been distilled down by issue and is useful even for old farts like myself to get a sense of what each party is on about.

Why the focus on young anglophones? Alison continues: "English-speaking Quebec is a diverse, confident, recognized and respected national linguistic minority that actively participates in and contributes to the social, economic, cultural and political life of Quebec and Canadian society. English-speaking youth represent 15 per cent of the total youth in Quebec, while the total population of youth (both Francophone and Anglophone) is 2 million, representing 25 per cent of the population of Quebec."

At the end of the day, electioneering, like the Radiohead song, is a wailing, cowbell-driven, hot mess that often feels as though it is going nowhere. But we can't leave it at that. We have to own it, own our roles as citizens of Quebec, no matter how "meh" or "un-cool" it may seem. The Casseroles ignited a spark in Montreal's youth, we have to find a way to keep that burning. Did the Quebec Charter of Values smother or fan that flame? I suppose that on April 7, Quebec will find out.

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  • In this Monday, Oct. 30, 1995 file picture, police watch a fire burn underneath a "Oui" pro-separatist sign after the federalists won the Quebec referendum. In Canada's May 2, 2011 federal election, voters dealt Quebec's separatists their worst humiliation in modern memory and set off a debate about whether the mostly French-speaking province even needs a separatist movement in this globalized age. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Tom Hanson)

  • In this Friday, Oct. 27, 1995 file picture, a large Canadian flag is passed through a crowd in as thousands streamed into Montreal from all over Canada to join Quebecers rallying for national unity three days before a referendum that could propel Quebec toward secession. In Canada's May 2, 2011 federal election, voters dealt Quebec's separatists their worst humiliation in modern memory and set off a debate about whether the mostly French-speaking province even needs a separatist movement in this globalized age. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • MONTREAL, OCT. 30--SAYING NO--Daniel Johnson Quebec Liberal Leader and leader of the No campaign in the Quebec referendum delivers his victory speech after the No side won by a slim margin in Montreal, Monday.(CP {PHOTO)1995(stf-Fred Chartrand)fxc

  • MONTREAL, Oct. 30--Members of the Yes and No camps clash on the streets of Montreal after the No victory in the Quebec referendum Monday night. (CP PHOTO) 1995 (stf-Tom Hanson)ROY

  • Dejected Yes supporters stand silently at their campaign headquarters in Montreal Monday night, Oct. 30, 2005 as they go down to a narrow defeat in the province's referendum vote. Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the Quebec sovereignty referendum vote that was held on Oct. 30, 1995. (CP PICTURE ARCHIVE/Paul Chiasson)

  • MONTREAL, Oct. 30-- Bloc Quebecois leader Lucien Bouchard wipes his brow as he is joined on stage with his wife Audrey Best after the defeat of the Yes side in the Quebec referendum in Montreal Monday night. (CP PHOTO) 1995 (stf-Paul Chiasson)ROY

  • A Yes supporter at the campaign headquarters in Montreal looks dejected as vote results come in on the Quebec referendum Monday night, Oct. 30, 1995. (CP PHOTO/Tomn Hanson)

  • MONTREAL, Oct. 30--No side supporters wave Quebec and Canadiasn flags as they take part in a caravan through the streets of Montreal Monday as the province votes on a referendum on sovereignty. (CP PHOTO) 1995 (stf-Tom Hanson)ROY

  • Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien casts his ballot, Oct. 30, 1995, in Ste-Flore, a Shawinigan suburb, to vote in the referendum on the sovereignty of Quebec. (CP PHOTO/Jacques Boissinot)

  • MONTREAL, Oct. 30--NO VICTORY--No supporters respond to poll results, in Montreal Monday, as the pro-Canada camp move above 50 percent of the popular vote on their way to a slim victory in the Quebec referendum. (CP PHOTO) 1995 (stf-Jacques Bossinot) rpz

  • MONTREAL, Oct. 30--Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney casts his ballot in the Quebec referendum Monday in Montreal. (CP PHOTO 1995 (str-Robert Galbraith)ROY

  • MONTREAL, Oct. 30--A small group of Non supporters carry Quebec and Canadian flags as they parade through the streets of Montreal Monday. (CP PHOTO) 1995 (stf-Tom hanson)ROY

  • Quebec Referendum photo taken October 29, 1995. (CP PHOTO) 1998 (stf-Ryan Remiorz)

  • Yes supporters wave Quebec flags and posters during a Yes rally in Montreal Wednesday, Oct. 25, 1995. The referendum vote will be held Oct. 30, 1995. (CP PHOTO/Rayan Remiorz)

  • A voter gets set to cast his ballot in Montreal Sunday Oct. 22, 1995 as advance polls open across Quebec for people who will be unable to vote in the sovereignty referendum Oct. 30. (CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz)

  • Some of the 4000 Yes supporters display their conviction Sunday Oct. 22, 1995, at a Yes rally in Quebec City where the three leaders, Mario Dumont, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard spoke. The referendum vote will be held Oct. 30, 1995. (CP PHOTO/Jacques Boissinot)

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