Early in their schooling, students learn about Canada as a democracy where everyone of voting age, in theory, has a voice in how the country runs, what laws come into effect, and what priorities the government should have. When they grow up, however, people begin to realize the theory does not always match reality.
Assessing the level of connection between the theory of democracy and its current reality in Canada was the focus of Go Vote for the Change You Want, held at the Indian and Metis Centre in Winnipeg on May 12, 2015.
The evening began with an introduction to the topic from Brigette DePape, who spoke of the need for positive change even in the midst of a massive restructuring of society under the current government. Despite low voter turnout over the past years and massive restructuring of life in Canada, there are signs people are still interested in shaping their own futures.
Some of the destruction of Canadian structures and way of life became clear as Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians spoke. As she named some of the many organizations that have lost their government funding or charitable status or have been entirely demolished, her statement that the government has “clear-cut an entire movement” summed up what has been happening in the past nine years.
Despite this bad news, however, she sees signs of hope in the recent political shift in Alberta and the growing interest in bringing about real change in Canada. A Voter ID Clinic held that evening in the same room helped to reinforce the importance of becoming involved.
One change activists hope to see is among Indigenous segments of society, as Sylvia Boudreau discussed in the next portion of the evening. Together with Winnipeg’s Indigenous Rock the Vote, she has been campaigning for increased participation among Indigenous people through public announcements, several Facebook pages, and other programs to help keep people informed and engaged.
Paul Moist of the Canadian Union of Public Employees spoke next, talking about the declining numbers of Canadians who vote and about the odd set of circumstances that allowed 25% of eligible voters to elect a majority government.
He spoke about how the highest level of Canadian values, including income equality and public health care, are under attack and how media coverage of elections contributes to voter apathy by reporting mainly on poll numbers rather than on issues and how politicians respond.
The next speaker of the evening was Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, an associate professor from the University of Manitoba, who spoke about the Canadian government’s 147-year history of taking land from Indigenous people, meanwhile creating inequality and greatly reducing the amount of public space available.
However, in contrast to the government’s apparent indifference to the 1200 murdered and missing Indigenous women, communities are getting involved in events such as the walk in honour of Tina Fontaine, which attracted people from many diverse sectors of society.
A different topic came at the end of the evening as Diwa Marcelino spoke about the plight of Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada. These people do many of the undesirable jobs but are denied many basic rights, often being exploited by their employers but risking deportation if they complain.
Voter turnout, majority governments, and Temporary Foreign Workers might seem like a somewhat unlikely combination of topics, but the large turnout of participants indicated that people are still interested in democracy. If the Go Vote event is any indication, citizens of Canada still want a voice in their government and what values to pursue in society.