By Alison Loat |
With all the excitement elections generate in the media and among those who follow politics, it can be easy to forget that building a healthy democratic culture requires not only voting, but finding ways to participate in between elections. Too often after the votes are tallied, pundits take a day or two to lament how few people exercised their right to vote, and then move on. But heaving a sigh after an election does little to encourage citizens’ active involvement beyond the ballot box.
Take Meaghan Langille, a university student who did not think of herself as political. “I remember feeling like the political system was defined in extremely narrow terms. The role citizens seemed to play in this system was as voters and not much else.” Even after taking a civics class, she didn’t connect actions like volunteering and petitioning to formal politics. Then at school she started getting active in the campus chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which taught her that when she was concerned about something she could write to her elected representative.
In other words, besides voting, we don’t see politics as a worthy place to spend our time. This despite the fact that political leaders are charged with making decisions on so many issues that affect us, including our roads, schools and hospitals.
Voting levels are falling and satisfaction with democracy is at an all-time low. Over the last year, Samara conducted focus groups with people who don’t participate in politics to try to get to the source of people’s dissatisfaction. Many Canadians told us they struggle to see what involvement in politics looks like, and feel they have no role models or people in politics to whom they can relate.
As a result, fewer and fewer people seek to get involved in politics. For example, some research from Samara, the think tank where I work, recently found that while 55 percent of us volunteer our time for causes we believe in, only 10 percent volunteer in an election.
One way to change this is to start recognizing those “Everyday Political Citizens” – role models who make our democracy tick – in the same way we recognize the volunteers who make our communities tick.
The role models are out there. These folks are attending local town halls, speaking out about policy issues that matter to them, working with their MP to improve their community, running in local elections and maybe even aspiring to be Prime Minister.
As the dust settles on the municipal election and attention turns to other things, it’s even more important to recognize the many ways Canadians can be active between elections.
One way you can help is by nominating someone in your community who’ve made a difference through politics. Like Pascale Halliday, Tristan and Cayley Sparks, students from the Yukon who wanted to save their high school gym and went to the Yukon Legislature to achieve their goal. Or Calgary’s own Mark Hopkins, whose “We Should Know Each Other” initiative brings diverse people together to talk about their communities and share stories and laughter.
The goal is to find at least 308 Everyday Political Citizens – one for each federal riding – so we hope you’ll join us by nominating someone today.
Guest Blogger Alison Loat is Co-founder and Executive Director with Samara