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Voter apathy a blow to democracy

(Cartoon by George Longley)

The 2014 municipal elections in Oshawa went down as a historic event in the city’s pantheon, but for the wrong reasons.

Four years ago, voter turnout sunk to around 26 per cent, the second lowest in the history of the municipality. In essence, this means only one in every four registered voters bothered to cast a vote for the mayoral and city council races.

Many factors can contribute to apathy from the public, including a lack of hot-button issues, interesting races or general disinterest.

So where does the blame fall?

Municipal issues tend to be more specific and complex than those in provincial and federal elections, and it takes a great amount of dedication to be up-to-date on everything on the table. There are residents in the city who have their finger on the pulse of city hall, but they are the minority.

Many voters simply do not have the time or the effort to get so involved in municipal politics. There are many different reasons why this happens, as everyone is busy in their own unique way.

But is this really an excuse?

City council is the representative of the people and is expected to be knowledgeable, so shouldn’t there be some expectation that voters should do the same.

When someone goes to buy a house or a car, they usually do research to decide if it’s the right choice for them. Politicians are essentially trying to sell themselves as the right choice for office, so shouldn’t the same careful research be done in this case?

Let’s be honest. The way the spectrum has changed, especially over the past two years, the bipartisan showmanship and propaganda has left ‘politics’ as a dirty word in a lot of people’s mind.

But the move back to the ward system mitigates some of that work, as both voters and candidates hopefully have a greater opportunity to speak on issues that are truly local to their communities.

Those who are seeking office have no power over how many people actually take the time to cast their vote. But if voter turnout continues to plummet, can we truly call our municipal politicians ‘publicly elected officials’ if most of the public could simply care less?