Plummeting voter turnout is a matter of distrust

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

Canadians are losing their interest in politics – at least at the ballot box.  Certainly, there is a wide following of the “Duffy scandal” and interviews and opinions of politicians consume a significant

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

Canadians are losing their interest in politics – at least at the ballot box.  Certainly, there is a wide following of the “Duffy scandal” and interviews and opinions of politicians consume a significant
portion of the media – even when an election has not been called.  But the fact remains, on voting day, Canadians increasingly do not mark their ballots.
From confederation in 1867 to the election of 1992, voter turnout was above 70% (with a few exceptions caused by unusual circumstances). However, since then there has been a steady drop in ballots cast on election day. In the last election (2011), only 61% of eligible voters used the ballot box. A
number of factors have contributed to this decline but, when all causes are examined, one stands out – lack of voter trust in
elected politicians.
A 2013 Ekos poll
concluded that only about one in four citizens believe they can trust the federal government to do the right thing. A study conducted by Ryerson University in 2014 asked the following question: “How satisfied are you with the ethical behaviour of Federal Members of Parliament?” The finding: only 14% were satisfied. Further, the Prime Minister received the lowest satisfaction score of any federal politician. These results may be partially explained by the “Duffy affair”, a general rise in scepticism, and a lack of attention to federal politics, but there is something more fundamental behind the dismal trust numbers.
Trust is the belief that someone can be relied upon to act in a manner that accords with his or her stated and expected responsibilities. As social creatures, trust comes quite naturally to humans, but we also have a protective mechanism that seeks retribution if the trust is broken.  Unfortunately, our government has increasingly used its powers to betray that trust by hiding much of its real intentions and policies: parliamentary committee meetings are closed; individual politicians can only recite from prepared talking points rather than express their honest
opinions; and significant questions go unanswered. The twenty second sound bite is more important than an honest discussion of alternative approaches to complex situations.
This “phoney” behaviour gets noticed by
the voting public and contributes to reduced trust and, thus, reduced turnout at election time. The paradox lies in the fact that the ballot box is the best mechanism voters have to hold our politicians accountable; to require responsible, open and meaningful
conduct, and practice true
representative democracy.  True democracy requires participation by all citizens; they must demand a meaningful and open society for political decision making, and politicians must earn the trust of the electors.