Columnist Margaret Miller is a longtime Creston Valley resident.

Columnist Margaret Miller is a longtime Creston Valley resident.

Valley Views: RIGHT OR RESPONSIBILITY?

“Political parties offer differing views on what’s important, and in a world with pressing problems, increasing authoritarianism and inequality, it’s important for citizens to take an active role in shaping their nation’s future.”

“Valley Views” column by Margaret Miller

It’s election time again. Saturday, Oct. 24. Only a matter of days before the citizens of British Columbia can participate in shaping the future of their province.

The mere prospect of an election – federal, provincial or municipal – draws moans and groans from some. Complaints about campaign and election costs, strategic voting, vote-grab promises. There are the “why bother?” cynics, those who believe their vote doesn’t matter, and those who lump all politicians into the dishonest-can’t-trust- them category. And there’s the “couldn’t care less” crowd and those confused by the political process.

And that’s a shame. Elections matter. They’re vital in a democracy. Political parties offer differing views on what’s important, and in a world with pressing problems, increasing authoritarianism and inequality, it’s important for citizens to take an active role in shaping their nation’s future.

I grew up and began my teaching career in a country with compulsory electoral voting. Like other adult citizens in Australia, I was required by law to make an appearance at a polling station every election, receive a ballot paper and take my turn behind the cardboard walls of a polling booth. Voting took place at local elementary schools on Saturdays and were community events. Kids usually accompanied parents; neighbours chatted and local charities set up fundraising sausage-sizzles in the school grounds. Those who opted out of the process — either through indifference, indecision, or forgetfulness — were issued a fine.

Some Canadians flinch at this notion of forced participation in a democratic election, at this turn-up or pay-up practice. “You’d be punished if you didn’t turn up? Isn’t that against freedom of choice?” I disagree. Electoral voting is not simply a democratic right. It’s a democratic duty.

It was important for me to become a Canadian citizen after immigrating to BC. It was a lengthy process and concluded with a public ceremony at the Creston Recreation Centre. On that June afternoon, I stood with 51 other Kootenay residents, raised my right hand and recited the Canadian Oath of Citizenship. It included this promise: “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

The oath reminds us that citizenship brings both privileges and responsibilities. Canada is a great place to live. Canadians benefit from developed health, educational and legal systems. They can access a range of important social services. Canada is big and beautiful, and boasts diverse landscapes and resources. But citizenship is about giving, as well as receiving. It’s about responding to community (volunteering perhaps or donating to charity if possible), respecting the environment (avoiding pollution and waste), and participating in the democratic process (running for office or voting in elections).

Healthy families understand that responsibilities balance freedoms. I grew up in a family of eight and my sensible parents assigned us children a manageable number of daily chores. “Margaret, have you cleaned your teeth? Set the table? Stephen, have you fed the dog? Michael, have you taken out the garbage?”

Some chores were irritating or tedious; some took us from playtime for short periods. But there was no opting out, no freedom of choice. We weren’t let off the hook because we didn’t care or couldn’t find the time. Thanks to our persistent parents, we acquired some healthy life habits and learned the value of contributing to the whole. And after years of good teeth brushing I can now boast a full set of 32!

Voting is no less important than domestic chores and takes much less of our time. Kudos to those who already take an active role in Canada’s democracy by making their mark on ballot papers. I only hope others decide to participate in the process, to learn a little more — if necessary — and to vote on Oct. 24. Our future is worth the effort.

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