A country can be likened to a club, a sports team, a family or a school. When things go well everyone cheers with pride. When things go bad, or a member of our “national club” steps out of line everyone shares in the shame.
Yet, Canada is seen as a jewel amongst the world’s nations. Thousands of people in other countries toil to come to Canada to work or study. Others take more drastic measures relying on smugglers or other creative means to reach our shores.
Could it be these folk see something in Canada that people born here take for granted and accept as a birthright?
Few Canadians alive today would know or remember that until 1947, Canada was a nation without citizens. “Canadians” were British subjects living in Canada. Depending upon their country of origin or if they were of aboriginal ancestry, some did not even enjoy that status.
Yet, Canada was the first Commonwealth country to create its own citizenship separate from Great Britain.
In a democratic country such as Canada, the right to vote is the priceless gift of citizenship.
In the last general election, only 58.5 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots. It was the lowest turnout since Confederation. That compared to 64.1 per cent in November 2000, 60.9 per cent in June 2004, and 64.7 per cent in January 2006. The largest turnout was in April 1963, when 79.2 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls.
Only Canadian citizens may vote. It generally takes five to six years for an immigrant to become eligible to become a Canadian citizen. After gaining permanent resident status, meeting the resident requirement, learning the language, passing the Canadian citizenship exam, new Canadians are eventually invited to appear before a citizenship judge to take the Oath of Citizenship: “ I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, her heirs, and successors. And that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”
The only thing that changes for a new Canadian upon becoming a citizen is that they may vote, run for office, serve on a jury, be issued a passport and be eligible for occupations requiring citizenship. Whether we are born or adopted members of the Canadian family, it is clear that very little is asked of us in return for all that we receive.
Our way of government does not compel everyone to vote, but democracy may fall into disrepute if those who enjoy its rights and privileges fail to exercise them. Could it be that a low voter turnout weakens the ability of those we elect to govern?
Being a member of a club, family or school, and being a citizen of a nation necessarily comes with duties and responsibilities — two things that are quite different one from the other. Responsibilities are usually laid out as terms of reference or job description. Duty, on the other hand, is doing the right thing — even if it is an optional duty — such as voting.
Good citizenship includes membership. As citizens we are not only individuals, we are members of the Canadian family. Being a good citizen is more than just being on the tax rolls. Citizens do not just watch the parade and then comment on how much better the show might be. Above all, the citizen is not a hanger-on. That is what makes voting so very important.
Voting means that individually we support our governing institutions regardless of what name or party we place our “X” next to. Voting demonstrates that we have set apart some time and put forth an effort to help make our government, the Government of Canada better because we have voted. The greater the turnout of voters adds greater legitimacy to the elected government and its platform.
Every person’s contribution benefits the nation. Voting day is not Olympic hockey night, the Grey or Stanley Cup, but on May 2, Canada can be united in the simple act of casting a ballot.
Canadians have the opportunity to test the worthiness of their citizenship; and if May 2 is not convenient, there are advance polls on April 22, 23 and 25. There is even free transportation if required.
—Gerald Pash is a retired lieutenant of the Canadian Forces Reserves and is a longtime civilian spokesperson for CFB Esquimalt public affairs. He is also a former radio broadcaster.