I am one of the candidates who entered the Toronto Mayoral race and I am sadly declaring that I will not vote today, not even for my own candidacy. I am very passionate about politics; I have founded and registered a federal political party called "Party for Accountability, Competency and Transparency" and I have been a candidate in two by-elections so far.
I read political news and analysis on a daily basis and I regularly write political articles and blogs. I put a lot of energy into presenting a political platform for the municipal elections on a dedicated website, via social media, interviews and articles. And yet, after all this effort, I decided not to vote today.
Most politicians, media, your friends and co-workers will tell you to go to vote, it is your civic duty, an affirmation of our Canadian values and principles of democracy, free society, a necessary step in our common efforts to build a prosperous, functional society. Many will say that we are blessed to live in a democratic society where you're allowed to vote without fearing any form of repercussions.
But today I am not voting. I believe this election is undemocratic and my vote would do nothing but to legitimize it. I believe that all these calls for people (especially youngsters) to come out and vote is just a push to give credibility to a system that has major flaws. After all, no matter how many voters vote, either 20 per cent or 95 per cent, the voting choices are the same and statistically the outcome would be the same. By law, there's no minimum number of votes required to validate the results.
We are all aware that our democratic system is flawed but one does not understand how big the flaws are until participating in the electoral process as a candidate. The only truly democratic thing is that at least at municipal elections level, anyone can register as a candidate by paying a relatively low fee of $200 and filing out a one-page form. But that is the end of the democratic process.
The next step after registration is to present your ideas, proposals, platforms to the voters and have a chance to debate issues with other candidates. However, in order to do that, you have to get yourself invited to participate in these debates or invited to give interviews to various media groups, otherwise you can only rely on your own financial resources to reach voters through direct advertising -- flyers, signs, robocalls, paid commercials. There will always be candidates who have good connections with the media or some political groups that can call up a few people so their names will be included in the "top candidates" list, and also rich individuals who can spend a million dollars to promote themselves through traditional commercial advertising means.
Speaking of spending your own money, did you know that a candidate (and his or her spouse) can contribute as much money as they wish, up to the maximum limit set by the electoral commission which is $1.3 million? David Soknacki spent $300,000 of his own money and managed to score a maximum 6 per cent in the polls before dropping out. NDP's Olivia Chow and John Tory both raised well above the limit through donations. The electoral process is very much a money game, we all learned to accept this as a given and very few people object to it.
Those who don't have money but have strong connections in the media can count on that to obtain free publicity through debates, interviews, news articles and more. Most debate organizers routinely ignore candidates that are not included in the "top candidates" list which is compiled by the media. No surprise that John Tory, who is a former Rogers executive, has been included in this list from the very beginning, and so was Olivia Chow who has obvious political connections. Mayor Ford and his brother have enough money to make their own way into the list.
I was not surprised at all that the more elitist groups such as the Empire Club, C.D. Howe Club, Churchill Society as well as the top media groups like CBC, Newstalk, CTV, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star would ignore the not-so-rich-or-famous candidates, but the big surprise to me came from political advocacy and community groups that represent the disenfranchised, marginalized voters; ArtsVote, TTCRiders, prodTOvote and many more, have chosen to invite the same "top candidates'. At some debates it was quite obvious; the Churchill Society debate had three chairs and microphones installed and only two candidates in audience, while the TTCRiders had only one candidate to debate herself (Chow). Some debates were "kind enough" to invite the "fringe" candidates to sit at the back of the room in some makeshift booths to present their brochures while the "top candidates" were offered a seat in the debate. When Rob Ford dropped from the race, there were a few debates with only two Candidates; there was definitely room for at least one more, but most organizers refused to invite other candidates.
I do understand the reasons why some candidates are being excluded from debates. Many of them are not serious: they don't have a platform, tend to create disturbances, present themselves poorly or in an erratic manner. I wish there was a selection process for candidates something that would not be undemocratic, but unfortunately those candidates who don't have media connections or a million dollars to spend but have the qualifications and a coherent platform to present, are treated the same way Sketchy the Clown is treated.
I may not be the best candidate on the ballot, but I believe I have the qualifications required for the Mayor's job, maybe more so than the top candidates. I have Masters degree in Architecture and urban planning, and Executive MBA, and I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. I own a small business specialized in human resources information systems, familiar with public sector unions and compensation issues. I made an effort to put together a Platform that addresses the main issues of the election in a very serious manner. I requested most debate organizers to include me in their list but I was denied in most cases. I had to resign to this idea that unless you have money or connections, the democratic principles are worth nothing. In Canadian politics, there are two democracies; one for the rich and powerful who can enter a somewhat fair electoral race, and one for the voters, who have the liberty to choose their leaders but only from that group of rich and powerful.
The only thing I can do is to abstain from the vote. I refuse to legitimize this undemocratic system by participating in it. I am doing this as a form of protest. Recently people of Hong Kong took the streets to protest against an undemocratic process. If anyone tries to protest in the streets here in Canada, would be considered a foul. We Canadians believe we have the best electoral system and democracy there is - and maybe we do, but it has it's own major flaws.
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