Why I Didn't Vote, 2010

(I mentioned on Twitter that I wasn't going to vote, and some folks asked why. Since this is a complicated issue that won't fit into 140 characters, I wrote it up here and linked to it.)

I have been eligible to vote since the federal general election of 1988. Since that time I have voted in every election I was eligible to do so in, with the exception of the 2010 Municipal Election.


First, let me distract you with some irrelevancies.

The problem with elections is that just anyone can run. Anyone who has made a career of public service suddenly becomes a "career politician", something which is considered a negative label by the electorate. Ignorance seems a virtue.

The problem with election campaigns is that there are very few new ideas. Most of the platform planks which come up are either incredibly simplistic (ie zero-means-zero), incredibly naiive (ie LRT on Carling), impossible (throwing out all the collective barganing agreements the city has with the unions), illegal (several (usually fringe) candidates always want to do things that are the responsibility of other levels of government), or incredibly vague (ie being in favor of delivering the LRT tunnel on time and on budget, except if it is going to cost too much, in which case we'll scrap it and start from scratch again).

The problem with candidates is that there is, at the end of the day, very little to differentiate most of them apart. So the natural inclination is to pick on real or perceived character flaws of other candidates, blow them out of proportion, and then loudly say, "I'm not like him(*)." US politics, especially presidential politics, is almost exclusively about the "not him" gambit. The federal conservative parties turned this into an electable strategy after the Reform and PC parties merged. It has worked so well that the federal Liberals have now abandoned any semblance of policy development and will now throw all their efforts into the same "not him" strategy.

The problem with elections overall is that all of this is blown up into a firestorm by the media. Candidates prance for the media, who feed back into the whole mess by paying attention and then instigating conflict. This is the reason why the "not him" strategy works: because it is short and simple enough for a soundbite or a five paragraph article. They then tie this up with demands that the candidates possess "vision", which seems to be code for "large projects mostly funded by tax money" (see also Landsdown, the tunnel...).

The problem with the actual act of voting is that there is no way for the electorate to register their displeasure with the options being offered. Ideally there would be some way to show up and decline the ballot in such a way that the declined ballots would be counted and listed along side the number of votes for each candidate. That way you could compare the number of votes for any candidate with the number of voters who cared enough to get involved but didn't like any of the options.

Right now a dissatisfied voter has three options:
  • they can skip voting entirely, which makes them look like they don't care;
  • they can deliberately spoil their ballot, which makes them look like an idiot; or
  • they can vote for someone they don't want to win, which makes them an idiot.
When we vote, we are putting a vote for someone. This is an implied endorsement of at least something they have, be it their ideas, their record, even the order their name is presented on the ballot.

As such, I feel very strongly that campaigns and platforms need to be for something. Being "I'm not him" is not being for something.

We are not (or should not be) voting against someone. We can only vote for someone.

So all that said, we come back to why I didn't vote this time around: I did not think there was any person or collection of ideas that I wanted to vote for.

Mr. Watson is a career politician, and as such he left himself plenty of wiggle room on his promises. So he'll do what it is feasable to do. This is a safe and practical position to have. The problem is he hasn't differentiated between what he'd like to do verses what is most likely to be dropped, ie what the priorities are if there isn't enough money in the budget to do everything (and there isn't). There isn't any substance to him. And he's bailed on jobs before, leaving municipal politics to run provincially, and then leaving his ministerial job with the governing Liberals to come back to us fine folk.

Mr. Doucett never made many bones about not caring much for the suburbs, and since my place of residence (Morgan's Grant, north North Kanata) is the embodiment of sprawl,
I got the impression that he really didn't have anything for me and wasn't going to bother to try. (See this discussion I put into #NCR about Mr. Doucett's platform and sprawl in general.) His LRT-down-Carling idea was willful blindness in terms of what is actually achievable with a bureaucracy involved, and his constant windmill-tilting at the Landsdown plan was tiring. His inconsistancy in how unchallengable council decisions should be (ie absolute when it came to the OMB, except where he disagreed with it as in the tunnel and Landsdown). His vision of the city seemed to be restricted to the Glebe (and a downtown without a LRT tunnel).

Mr. O'Brien... well, after "Zero Means Zero", what more needs to be said? The only positive I can think of is that council operated very smoothly while he was on trial, and he managed a budget consensus -- the only problem being it was a consensus that totally ignored him.

None of the other candidates could even be taken seriously as someone you would actively want to see in the Mayor's chair.

So given all that, who am I supposed to vote for? Seriously. Voting for someone I don't like proves me an idiot.

For all my talk about making a protest vote, I couldn't do it in the end, it felt dishonest.

And since the turn-out was less than 50% this time, I'm clearly not alone.

The bottom line here is that the huge number of people who didn't vote represent a enormous failure on the part of the candidates and their platforms. They failed to attract the interest of those who didn't care, and they failed to meet the standards of those of us who cared and paid attention but found them lacking.

To suggest that since I didn't vote means that I don't have a right to complain over the next four years is ridiculous. As a home owner, I pay taxes, and that is what gives me the right to complain. You wouldn't suggest that since I didn't vote I no longer have the expectation of garbage pickup, would you?

To suggest that I don't take the privilege of voting seriously, that I don't respect the sacrifice of those who worked, fought, and in some cases died for that privilege, is insulting to me and those who gained me that privilege. I am not hiding behind excuses like "I'm too busy" or "I don't care". I have paid attention to the campaigns and considered things very closely and seriously. I daresay that in deciding to not to vote, I spent far more time with this issue than some who did vote.

To suggest that I should throw that vote away by spoiling the ballot, or voting for someone I don't want to, strikes me as insulting to those who gained me that privilege. Participation in governance like this is something to be taken very seriously, and the suggestion that a vote be wasted -- in any way -- tries to oversimplify and trivialize the entire process.

This was the first time I didn't vote, but I suspect it won't be the last. My previous vote was a protest vote for the Green Party, and it left me feeling dishonest. I'm not going to pretend that politics is any different than it was when I was younger, but I do know that my tolerance for it has gone way down.

And the way of the present seems to be to have more spectacularly less qualified candidates (Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Ford) which cater an overly simplistic and totally undeliverable message to the masses who want simple solutions to complicated problems.

I am not optimistic for the future, since nobody has the vision to make me so.


* == Statistically it is going to be a him. Totally different issue.


On Suburbs

(This is a thinly edited IRC rant I put into #NCR this week.)

Doucet became clearer to me once I realized he doesn't care if I vote for him since he's not interested in doing anything for me as a Kanata resident. Which perhaps paradoxically means he's a safe protest vote, since none of Larry, Jim, or Andy do it for me.

Suburbs are a hard problem. But since we pay taxes too, we have to be part of the solution. You can't just go around wringing your hands and saying "sprawl is evil", you have to make incentives for sprawlers to de-sprawl and you have to make sure the de-sprawlers don't lose their shirt while doing so.

Also, there are reasons why people live out here:

1) it is nicer than the city
2) it is cheaper than the city
3) it is quieter than the city

...and trying to make the rest of the city into a Glebe clone isn't going to solve ANY of those problems.

The Glebe is unique:

- it is close to the city
- but it isn't super dense

...basically it is a suburb that was pre-sprawl sprawl that Ottawa expanded to envelope.

The problem I have with Doucett's transit plan is that it is masquarading as two plans. A line that does commuter rail from Kanata into the core is not going to serve local on/off traffic down Carling. It is a one-or-the-other. I mean, look at how frickin' long it takes the 85 to go from downtown to Bayshore (or maybe I'm dating myself with that comment? does teh 85 still do that run?) whereas an express from kanata lakes is 60 minutes.

Or was, anyways.

I don't want to know how long it is from Morgan's Grant, it is something I've never had to do.

Bottom line, Doucett's look-how-great-the-Glebe-is campaign doesn't sell out here in Kanata. But it looks like it doesn't sell in most places, so, like I said earlier, it makes him a safe protest vote.

...and heck, if he does pull an NDP victory: he can't be any worse than Larry was, since I doubt council will listen to him, either.