If an elderly woman is still doing her part to make the system work by exercising the duties of citizenship, if young people can fight and die for freedom in a distant war torn land, the fact that millions in Ontario can’t be bothered to cast a ballot is an unmitigated disgrace.
I was back in Toronto this week and had the privilege of escorting my nearly 86-year-old mother to our family’s traditional annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel, where we literally bumped into former prime minister Brian Mulroney and his ever radiant wife Mila, with whom we shared an elevator. Unlike the United States, where the secret service would have shut down the lobby for the coming and going of an ex-president, Canada provides no close protection for its heads of government once they leave office. It may not be the wisest idea given the state of the world these days, but it is a quaintly Canadian touch and nice to know that one can still exchange pleasantries with such once lofty figures. At the dinner, Mother, as is her custom, proposed a toast to those who make our freedom possible and added an appreciation again this year for the Canadian troops abroad who serve and sacrifice to make democracy safe.
A few days later, I accompanied her to the polling station where she voted in the recent Ontario election. She has more difficulty getting around these days and walking can be painful. Still, she would not have considered for a second not exercising her franchise, which she and my late father always viewed as a sacred trust. Elections in our family typically prompted rather animated discussions and an accumulation of a lot of newspapers. My parents insisted in involving their children. My friends soon learned to avoid visiting our home close to election day if they were unprepared for the questions my father would fire at them. It was, shall we say, not exactly a casual affair. I can’t ever remember my father voting in anything other than a suit and tie which befitted the seriousness of the occasion. My mother still gets dressed up for it. Many members of the greatest generation who fought in, or lived through, the second world war are like that. I think it is one of their ways of paying a personal tribute to the sacrifices that allowed democracy to prevail over tyranny and to the men and women who never came home to enjoy the freedom for which they fought.
Half-way around the world in Afghanistan, the successors to this generation are fighting and dying to rid the world of a haven for the terrorists who have already attacked North America. Many have been young Canadians from Ontario. Seventy one have already made the ultimate sacrifice. So have their families. Many more have been wounded or are suffering from battle related illness and emotional trauma. I have met some of them. The war continues.
Last summer, my mother informed me that the mother of a fallen combat soldier killed in a bombing in Afghanistan —Trooper Darryl Caswell, who was 25 and with the Royal Canadian Dragoons based at Petawawa, Ontario— was trying to raise donations for a flavored supplement to put into the water Canadian troops drink in while in theater. For some inexplicable reason, they are forced to drink rather unpleasant tasting water from a source that is bottled locally. All this grief-stricken mother was trying to do was turn her sorrow into something positive for her son’s courageous comrades by making it a little more pleasant for them to drink the water. That’s all she was asking. We sent over several cases of the sweetener as did hundreds of others. It’s clearly not good enough, however.
These young men and women deserve the best while they stand in harms way and it is an outrage in itself that they are forced to drink local water that needs an additive to make it palatable when the water can and should come from home —from Canada. It makes you wonder what else they should have that could make their tour of service safer or more bearable. Three months later, I am still waiting for a response from Canadian defense officials as to why this unacceptable situation has been permitted.
It is just one more example of the sacrifice that is being made by some citizens from Ontario, while back at home barely half of all eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot in Wednesday’s provincial election. Voting turnout in Canada’s most populous province has been declining over the past several elections. It used to be a place where turnout would be around 70 percent. Wednesday’s was the lowest on record.
For most people, it would not have been difficult to cast a ballot. There were no terrible storms. There were no minefields or groups of insurgents threatening lives when people ventured out. Most only had to walk or drive a few blocks. But for almost one in two voters, even that was too much.
I am the first to admit that there is a specter of skepticism that casts a shadow over the political process. The conduct of many who run for office and many of those elected fuels that suspicion. They are often less than we need in terms of leadership, candor and vision. There is a widening feeling that politicians will say anything to get elected and once in office are pretty much the hostage of special interests. There may be some truth to that impression. But this is no excuse to opt out and not bother to vote, which is what the self-serving cynics who are trying to hijack the process and avoid the discipline of accountability really want.
If an elderly woman is still doing her part to make the system work by exercising the duties of citizenship, if young people can fight and die for freedom in a distant war torn land, the fact that millions in Ontario can’t be bothered to cast a ballot is an unmitigated disgrace. It is our choice for the Outrage of the Week.