Saturday, 27 September 2008

Why We Should Vote on Election Day

Filipiniana News - Rhyme or Reason
15 September 2008

Last month, I wrote about the Canadian Experience Class, and expressed the hope that the benefits from these and other changes to Canada’s immigration laws are truly well-meant and are not simply laid out to court people’s votes. 

Coincidentally, an election call was recently made by the government.  As we know by now, the elections will be held on October 14, 2008.   This is a day when each and every Canadian citizen should participate and make their voices heard.    Here are a few reasons why going out to vote on election day is extremely important:

A Citizen’s Right and Privilege

Canadian citizenship law provides that citizenship can be obtained if one has physically resided in the country for at least three years within the last four years.  As a result, many recent immigrants could obtain citizenship after only having lived and familiarized themselves with the Canadian system for three full years.  Admittedly, three years is a rather short time to be able to fully identify oneself with one’s newly-adopted country, or to gain a full sense of belonging.  This is even more acute for those who have lived those early years in financial uncertainty/insecurity.   There are also those who are still unable to cut themselves off from their countries of origin and would rather be updated on the developments “back home” than inform themselves of the current political and economic events in Canada where they now live.   As a result, the citizenship card and certificate are mere pieces of paper for many and are merely used to obtain the much-coveted Canadian passport to ensure their ability to travel to their home countries for unlimited periods of time without losing their right to return to Canada.

I am not advocating a change in Canadian citizenship law in this regard.  What needs to be changed however, is the way that people interpret the value of their citizenship.

One of the most important distinctions between permanent residents and citizens is the right to vote.   It is as much of a right as it is a privilege.  More than that, it is also a civic duty and should therefore not be taken for granted.  It is a concrete and wonderful opportunity to participate in the decision-making process of the country which we have chosen to call our own. 

Environmental Degradation

Global warming, carbon tax plan, the green shift, etc.  These are buzz words which signify the urgent need to do something about preserving our environment not only for ourselves but also for future generations.   They remind us that we are but stewards of the earth and should act responsibly instead of wantonly destroying the very sources of our survival. 

If we are to allow the future generations to continue to enjoy the quality of life that we have been enjoying, we should pay careful attention to how the environmental issue is being treated by those who are seeking our votes.  The importance of this very issue is so vital in that if the environment continues to deteriorate at its present rate, then all other issues will not even matter as our mother nature and its creatures (including human beings) will eventually cease to exist.

If the politicians seeking to govern our country are therefore sweeping this issue under the rug or are prioritizing corporate profits over environmental sustainability, then we should be very wary.  They are not really promoting our interests but are simply looking at the short-term benefits of the mighty dollar and are obviously kowtowing to pressure from those with economic power.

Immigration and Human Rights

It is trite to say that Canada is a country of immigrants.  As such, immigration objectives and human rights values should lie at the very core of government laws and decision-making.   Immigration policies and practices which reflect utmost fairness for those seeking admission,  and genuine compassion for those displaced from their countries of origin by unfortunate circumstances, should be an absolute priority.

Although it is clear that human rights values should pervade every aspect of government policy and decision-making, immigration issues make it even more imperative to pay closer attention to how these values are actually enforced.  A political party or candidate who simply mouths empty rhetoric without making concrete proposals for reform or whose track record is clearly inconsistent with these values, should not get our vote.

Health and Social Welfare

Among the reasons that Canada has become a desirable place to live is its generous health and social welfare system.   However, it is also well-known that the system has deteriorated over the years.  From a severe shortage of healthcare providers, to huge cuts in government spending, to frustrating bureaucratic delays – this area of governance is clearly in urgent need of drastic and effective reforms. 

These are but some of the extremely important general issues which I believe the politicians should clearly address in this election campaign.  There will of course be other issues, more specific or less contentious, that are equally calling for attention.

It is therefore vital that we should not vote solely on the basis of charisma, oratorical skills, grandstanding, empty promises or worse, petty mudslinging, which sadly pervade election campaigns.  Instead, we should carefully listen to what these politicians are really saying, probe into their motives and decide which party or candidate we believe, in good conscience, will work towards promoting our interests and those of future generations.

 The author is a lawyer in Toronto and may be reached at mdsantos@osgoode.yorku.ca