Is the leading candidate the Apathy Party?

Posted 09.26.09

IN THE PONTIAC, QUEBEC | Over the past year hundreds of people in Quebec’s federal riding of Pontiac put in long hours preparing for the Liberal nomination vote. Dedicated members -- especially the three candidates, Cindy Duncan McMillan, George Lafortune, and Greg Fergus -- drove up and down the riding, spending countless evenings and weekends talking politics with residents.

A certain momentum inevitably builds and the excitement grows. The families of the candidates lived the tension. Opposition party members -- Conservatives, NDP, and Bloquistes -- shared a growing excitement at the unveiling of their new challenger. Any of the three candidates would be formidable. Journalists and political junkies itched for the next step in this long march towards a new Pontiac Liberal candidate.

This political stirring is felt each time an election looms or a run-off is imminent. And this season, there's no lack of political excitement. Municipal elections are underway with just a few more days left before the deadline for jumping into the race. Mayors and councillors are being challenged across West Quebec. In Ottawa, by the time this edition of the Post is delivered, a federal election might be underway.

And so, on the eve of another federal election -- the fourth in five years -- I assume electing a strong Liberal candidate is high on the list of Pontiac's party members. The day of the vote, Sunday, September 13, was a real thriller. The vote counting took much longer than anticipated, building the anxiety. To the thrill of local members, Cindy Duncan McMillan was returned to the campaign trail as the Pontiac's Liberal candidate. Her support team has now tripled, with Mr. Lafortune and Mr. Fergus offering her their support, backed by their respective teams. In her acceptance speech, Ms McMillan warned her opponent, MP Lawrence Cannon, that despite their aggressive campaigning the Liberals of Pontiac stand united.

However, the elephant in the room is this: only half of Pontiac's Liberal members bothered to vote on Sunday.

These are party supporters. They pay their dues. They care about politics and the region -- just not enough to actually vote! Was it because they liked all three candidates equally? There's an alarm bell ringing here.

The cause for alarm is not new; with almost each election, fewer voters cast their ballots. Mr. Cannon shares Ms McMillan's problem: voter apathy. The major challenge for both candidates will be to get the vote out. And the same goes for the coming municipal elections. How is it possible that West Quebecers don't care about their community or country enough to bother making a selection? Look, we cannot claim to have a democracy if we don't vote. We are about to spend millions of dollars on another federal election. Are we wasting this money? No. The people of this country can elect a body of governors who can work together, at each level of governance, but only if we all get out and vote. All of us.

Copyright © 2009 Lily Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.09