Published Saturday May 31 2014
The 2011 Ontario election recorded the lowest ever voter turnout with a dismal 49.2 per cent of eligible voters filling out ballots.
Voter turnout has been dropping steadily over the past two decades, which is a sad commentary on the politicians, the political process and the eligible electorate.
It's appalling to think that prior generations of Canadians fought and died to protect our freedoms and democratic way of life while a large segment of the Canadian population today can't be bothered to vote.
With the next provincial election less than two weeks away, Ontarians will go to the polls to choose a new leader. As a business person who has a vested interest in a prosperous Ontario, I'm concerned about voter apathy, which is a symptom of a larger malaise that threatens to erode our global competitiveness.
Until four years ago, Ontario used to be a have province. Admittedly, some of our economic decline is the result of the weakening of the manufacturing sector, a crippling recession and increased global competition.
But we're at a point where we need inspired leadership that's willing to invest the effort and resources to get this province back on track again.
For a start, there are two issues that candidates should be championing (about which we've heard almost nothing): the abolition of the Ontario College of Trades (which adds an annual membership tax of $60 on apprentices and $120 on licensed tradespeople); and the abolition of the Ontario Drive Clean program (a wasteful tax that has no redeeming value for consumers or the environment).
These types of issues cost taxpayers millions and are a drain on our financial and human resources. Every day, the business community has to deal with endless red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy. We need a government that is prepared to work with industries to devise more efficiencies instead of new levels of taxation.
One of the key issues in this election is transportation. In the GTA, the debate is over light rail transit versus expanded subway lines. In northern Ontario, it's access to passenger rail service, road maintenance and infrastructure. Other urban centres throughout the province are also dealing with transportation woes.
Voters need to examine these issues carefully to evaluate what options would best serve their respective communities and know which candidate supports which options. They need to understand the parties' positions with regard to recent financial scandals, corporate mismanagement, runaway expenses, and provincial indebtedness.
Moreover, we need voters who are prepared to make their votes count. Apathy is contagious and, if left unchecked, the issues affecting Ontario will become more burdensome and we'll continue to lose our competitive advantage.
Perhaps electronic voting is the answer. Some Canadian municipalities have tried it, and there are increasing calls to introduce e-voting at the provincial level. It could be worth exploring on a trial basis.
For Ontario to improve its voter turnout, a number of things need to occur. First, our political leaders need to set a better example in terms of civic discourse and restore some dignity to the office. Too many politicians are looking to score points over their opponents instead of speaking honestly and with conviction about issues that affect Ontarians.
Secondly, parents, teachers, community leaders and business owners have to increase their level of engagement in the political process. They need to speak to the younger generation and encourage them to learn about the issues and get out and vote.
We all lead busy lives, but we all need to understand the issues of the day and to exercise our democratic responsibility. We need to honour those who fought for our right to hold elections.
Please make the time to understand the issues and to vote in the upcoming provincial election.