A few days ago I ran into a friend at a coffee shop, and as we waited in line for our drinks we chatted about the Canadian federal elections that were held on Monday this week. Having recently become a Canadian citizen, he was thrilled to vote in Canada for the first time. I was at first a little taken aback when he asked me if it was obligatory to vote in Canada (it’s not), and I wondered what it would be like to vote in a country where one was compelled to do so by law. My friend’s enthusiasm was a reminder that voting is a privilege we too often take for granted or even forget to exercise.
The news of Geraldine Ferraro’s recent death saddened me but brought back happy memories of my first vote in a Presidential election. In 1984, the year she was Walter Mondale’s running mate, I was 18 and in my first year of college. There were many opportunities to get involved in the campaign and I jumped right in. Most thrilling, however, was to be in the middle of the crowd at a rally where Ferraro spoke. I’d cheered at sports events, but never had I experienced the exhilaration of being in the middle of a throng of people raising voices in support of a political candidate. And however much I may have been a dewy-eyed dreamer, the feeling that I could help make change happen was very real. Seeing Ferraro at the podium making history before my eyes seemed to open up all sorts of possibilities.
From what I’ve seen, student involvement in the recent Canadian election has been subdued compared to my college experiences. Part of the problem is that with a parliamentary system of government, the timing of elections is often unpredictable. For this week’s election, there was a little over a month to get campaigns going.
Furthermore, the timing coincided with end of term at most universities across Canada, and students were writing exams or had gone home for the summer. A newspaper photo of a “vote mob” at one university showed an enthusiastic scattered handful of students waving placards, hardly a mob. However, just as I was feeling discouraged about student involvement (“Back in my day, blah, blah, blah…”) came the story of some of the newly elected New Democratic Party members of Parliament from Quebec. They include four McGill University students, one of whom is 19 years old and not only voted for the first time but has also made history as the youngest person ever elected to Parliament. So much for apathetic youth! After hearing about these new faces in politics, I feel more hopeful. It would certainly be a good thing if their enthusiasm rubbed off on us old farts.