COLUMN: Apathy won’t cool my election fever

NANAIMO Technically there’s a few weeks to go before the election starts, but …

It’s not official, but the provincial election is underway in B.C.

Technically there’s a few weeks to go before the election starts, but just from my news feed on Facebook, not to mention my work e-mail account, candidates are already on the hustings, pounding the pavement and knocking on doors to capture as many voters as they can.

I’ve said before that I like fixed election dates. One of the downsides, however, is campaigning starts much earlier than most voters are used to in Canada.

John Cummins, leader of the B.C. Conservatives, stopped by the News Bulletin earlier this week to talk about the campaign and some of the policy that his party released as part of its platform. Cummins believes it’s a three-way race – although I’m sure the Green Party would disagree. The NDP seems to be running away with the contest, partly because we have yet to learn our lessons around polling. And the Liberals … well, they don’t really need me piling on right now, do they?

The first election I remember watching was the federal contest in 1993. My family gathered around the TV after polls closed and saw that Jean Chretien and his federal Liberals won the election. The big story, however, was the rise of the Reform Party.

Politics at any level remains a fascination for me, so it’s hard for me to fathom the level of voter apathy we currently sit at. Voter turnout is falling to levels of half the population, and continues to do so.

Many of my colleagues choose not to vote out of an attempt to maintain objectivity. I don’t share that opinion and vote in every election I’m entitled to.

I have friends in almost all the camps. Friends who are Liberal organizers; campaign volunteers for the Greens; union leaders and business men and women. And they all covet me, not because of my occupation but because I’m one of those elusive swing voters – I don’t make my mind up until I’ve heard all the rhetoric and evaluated all the promises.

I like politics. I read each party’s platform because I’m interested, not because I have to. I like covering elections – it’s one of the few times you won’t hear me complain about clocking overtime. The scrums, the cameras, the lights, the anticipation as the results finally roll in. I think it’s how sports writers feel all the time.

I wish I could transfer some of that excitement that I feel to the people apathetic about voting today. What we, in the media, tend to do is lecture – about how it’s your responsibility, your duty to vote. After all, your grandparents died in wars to give you that right, so use it.

I did have one victory of my own this year – one of my close friends told me she plans to vote for the first time in May. All my gibber jabber about the importance of voting finally got to her. I think I might go with her to the polling station, though, just to make sure.

I realize politics can be intimidating. People are worried they’ll make the wrong decision, that they simply don’t know enough about each party to make their vote worthwhile.

While the nuances of party policy might change, the big ideas don’t. A sliding ship in a pen might move side to side, but the general makeup stays the same – the Greens and the NDP will still fall to the left of the spectrum from the Liberals and the Conservatives. Knowing what you value most, and finding a party that falls in those lines is one of the best ways to choose who gets your vote.

Even if you truly believe that voting is simply picking the lesser of two evils, like Rick Mercer said, it’s still really – really – important that you do it.

Are you a first-time voter? I’m looking for people to talk to during the election to see how candidates are resonating with Nanaimoites. Please send me an e-mail if you’d be interested in chatting about your concerns, excitement or fears about voting.