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Foreign Policy Analysis
MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Citizen Responsibilities in the Legislature

MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Citizen Responsibilities in the Legislature


Recognizing the member for Courtenay-Comox:
Madam Speaker, I would like to explore voting — voting which is both a citizen’s right
and responsibility. I recently spoke to some grade eight and nine
students at Lake Trail School in Courtenay. I took the opportunity to encourage them to
exercise their right to vote as soon as they are able, because it’s been shown that if
young adults do not vote when they are first eligible, they’re likely to never vote in
their entire lives. Why does it matter? Our democracy is weakened when citizens are
not participating, when they are not exercising their freedom to choose. That gap exposes a danger of losing the many
freedoms that democracy can bring. This is where the tilt begins, where right
turns into responsibility. If we want our rights and freedoms, we need
to exercise them. Take them out into the light and walk into
those polling booths to make our mark. So who votes, and who doesn’t? New Canadians, especially those who have come
from countries where democracy is only a dream, exercise their franchise often with profound
appreciation. Voting is an event to be celebrated. I remember one woman who was delighted to
become a new Canadian very shortly before her first vote. That first vote was cast for me, in the hope
that our party brought. As she proudly said: “I was one of the nine.” Every vote counts. Sadly for others, voting lacks that joy and
excitement. Who doesn’t vote? We know that young voters are staying away
from the polls in droves, but it’s not just those young voters. The numbers of voters across the board has
been dwindling over the past few decades. A lot comes into play. But really, it boils down to four basic reasons. Those reasons include education, role models,
registration and a sense of empowerment. We often hear: “I didn’t learn about civics
when I was in school.” Simply put, education is an investment in
democracy. Greater attention is needed so that as those
young students grow up to be of voting age, they don’t feel they aren’t informed enough
to participate. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge
the Speaker’s sponsorship of the wonderful program here at the Legislature, the B.C.
Teachers Institute on Parliamentary Democracy. Teachers who are keen to better know our parliamentary
democracy become better prepared to inspire their students, our future voters, to have
a stronger understanding and confidence to participate in our democracy. There are other resources, too, that civil
societies have been creating, as the crisis of lack of participation in elections grows. Student Vote is one such program, and there
are others. But on its own, education is not enough. Role models nurture voting as a learned behaviour. As one generation after another falls away
from voting, there are less and less role models — role models who make the exercise
of choosing their governments a commonplace task. Teachers can be inspirational, but added to
that is another layer: when people that students know and love involve them in the practice
of voting, the way is paved. When moms and dads vote and involve their
children in discussion about choices and about the value of voting, and by bringing them
along to the polling station, then there’s a greater likelihood that they will take up
voting when they are able. But while education and role models open the
door of possibility, there are stumbling blocks. We talk about voter registration and the need
to improve that and make it easier for people to make it part of their everyday routine
— not like going to the dentist but more like going to a ball game. Finally, we come to today’s important debates
and today’s choices. When people don’t feel that there is value
in voting, then there is little motivation to make the effort to exercise their freedom
to choose. Refining our voting system so that every citizen
feels the power of their vote will reinforce a citizen’s right and responsibility to
choose — and strengthen our democracy. Of course, that’s why I support proportional
representation — to get closer to 100 percent of the vote for 100 percent of the power.

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