By Pauline Kerr
Welcome to “Canada votes 2021.” An unvoiced question is about how much of Canada actually will vote.
Unlike their elders, who consider voting for their candidate of choice to be a right and a privilege, the younger generation of voters seems less engaged in our political system. Perhaps enough time has passed since any group – people of colour and women – has had to fight for the right to vote, that it is taken for granted.
Stepping into the polling station for the first time used to be considered a true sign one had reached adulthood. Now it is considered not worth the bother by too many.
Various candidates and parties wonder how to reach out to younger voters. Some target their campaigns at groups they know will vote. Others think the answer is to come up with programs that would appeal to 20- and 30-somethings. There are people from both groups who focus less on the content and more on the means of getting information out to us, i.e. using social media – a take on the iconic Marshall McLuhan phrase, “The medium is the message.”
The answer might be found by focusing less on what is said and how it is said by the candidates, and more on the candidates listening to what we, the voters have to say. What are the issues that matter to us during this election campaign?
However brief the campaign, there is time step down from the party platform and listen to issues being discussed over backyard fences, in coffee shop parking lots and in stories, letters to the editor and opinion pieces in community newspapers like this one.
Contrary to what some might think, our country is still very much caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter how much we would like it to be over, it is not. Put the economic recovery on the shelf for now; we want to hear plans for us getting booster shots, and when vaccines will be available for children. We need assistance programs for affected businesses and households to continue until the pandemic really is over.
Great though the pandemic challenge has been, it is not the only one this country faces. Global climate change is wreaking havoc with forest fires, drought and freakish storms, depending on where you live in Canada. Our communities have aging infrastructure that needs replacing; it was designed for a more predictable weather pattern, less vehicular traffic and fewer people. That will take a more stable, dependable way of getting funding from senior levels of government to municipalities.
We have not solved the question of what to do with the waste this country produces – everything from spent nuclear fuel, to single-use plastic grocery bags. In a few hundred years, we have gone from pitching waste out the nearest window or in the river, to burning it, to collecting it and burying it in the ground.
The last, while still our best option, is no longer considered a good and sustainable option, especially for materials that take millennia to break down into environmentally safe components.
We want our elected leaders to sort out long-term care – COVID-19 should never have been allowed to kill so many of our most fragile citizens. The astounding rise in housing costs is a serious problem affecting both young people starting out and seniors looking to downsize. That needs sorting out, too.
As for other issues, of course we need decent food on everyone’s table, and access to quality education for our community’s children. We need qualified people to work in health care, early childhood education and skilled trades. We need clean air, good land to farm and rivers with healthy fish in them.
Some of these are not federal issues, or at least not primarily so, but all would benefit from federal, provincial and municipal levels of government working co-operatively, for our benefit.
To paraphrase an old saying, humans have only one mouth but two ears for a reason. Elected officials cannot address issues we consider crucial without first hearing what they are.