Are you eligible to vote in British Columbia's May 14 provincial election?
The requirements seem simple enough. Age (18 or older), citizenship, residency.
But according to an advertisement from Elections BC, the province's "non-partisan" elections branch, voters must transcend those formalities and reach a higher plain.
The 30-second ad, running now on TV and online, begins innocently with gentle piano playing and a genial, Paul Rudd-like voice posing the question: "How old do you have to be to vote in B.C.?"
That's easy. Eighteen, right? Not so fast.
Footage of a young girl, blue bag in hand, flashes on screen. She's picking up trash on a riverbed while the Rudd-like voiceover says you're old enough to vote when "you want to pitch in." The scene quickly shifts to a kids soccer game and some cheering adults on the sidelines who can vote when they're "wise enough to know it takes a community to raise a child."
Whoa, wait a second! Who's making up these new rules?
I believe it takes parents, preferably two, to raise children. I believe a generation reared in childcare is more likely to bully, exploit or use hard drugs. I think the public school system, bankrolled by the provincial Ministry of Education and ruled by the teachers' union, acts outside its mandate. I believe the family, not the state, remains society's most important institution. Have I got it wrong? Should I reset my principles, lest I spoil a ballot with ignorance on election day?
The ad continues with an environmental admonishment (you can vote "when you've been in B.C. long enough to know it's special, but delicate") over horrific footage of a mammoth mudslide toppling tall pines like matchsticks.
Nobody supports mudslides. Certainly not me. I've been anti-mudslide all my life. But I'm uncomfortable with the use of apocalyptic imagery, a favourite tactic of green extremists, to shepherd me into a political position. When did Elections BC become Earth First?
Finally, we're told to "value a just society" before casting our ballot.
Just? In what sense? Are we talking about equality of opportunity or equality of outcome? The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal or the Criminal Code? I've got to know these things, Elections BC! I want to be in full compliance!
Worried about my franchise, I contacted Don Main, spokesperson for Elections BC, who told me that Elevator Strategy Advertising and Design, an ad agency based in Vancouver, produced the ad, which according to Main, represents conventional wisdom from Cranbrook to Fort St. John. "We try to always do something that appeals to all British Columbians," he said.
According to Main, Keith Archer, B.C.'s Chief Electoral Officer, blessed the ad before broadcast. Incidentally, two days after agreeing to arrange an interview with Archer, Main abruptly cancelled the interview with no explanation.
Nevertheless, while the ad's effect on next week's election remains debatable, one thing's clear. Its message echoes NDP and/or Green Party rhetoric, and therefore, counters the candidacy of many BC Liberal and/or Conservative candidates, particularly in ridings outside Vancouver. Anyone interested in democracy should be concerned about that.
As for me, I've got work to do. In a few short days, I'll cast my vote, exercising my right, guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and cherished by those who understand history. Yet according to Elections BC, I'm barely a citizen and woefully unwise.