Yet despite the taxes we pay, too often Canadians are ill-informed about how governments operate, or what we can do as citizens to have influence on the legislative process.
Beyond voting every four years – and only two out of three eligible voters actually cast a ballot in a federal election – few of us have any idea what steps we can take between elections to effect change.
In the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, there are sometimes violent anti-Trump protests taking place across the United States. Protesters interviewed for television show ignorance of the electoral process. Could a peaceful transition of power between U.S. President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump really be in jeopardy because people don’t understand how elections work?
There’s a simple solution to help solve some of the problem: Canadians should be insisting that civics be a mandatory course in high school.
Only Ontario requires a mandatory civics class within its high school curriculum. And in recent months, it’s been reported that the Ontario government was actually quietly considering removing the civics course.
The truth is that laws and governments are becoming more and more complicated. Beyond our national borders, in this time of globalization, international agreements can impose a whole new set of rules and regulations over our day-to-day lives. As a result, it’s been harder for citizens to keep abreast of the issues.
In the 1990s, political scientists began to recognize the electoral effects Low-Information Voters (or LIV) are having on election outcomes. LIVs may be responsible for the recent transformation of election campaigns from trying to convince voters a candidate has the best platform, to campaigns where policies no longer matter; they tend to crave spectacle and outrageous behaviour. Rather than considering what’s best for the nation, voters get reality-TV like campaigning that shocks and entertains us.
This year, U.S. voters elected a reality TV star, someone who has never held public office before, to the most powerful elected office on the planet. Regardless of partisanship, this year’s presidential election will not be seen as one of the highlights of democracy. The campaign featured everything from leaked e-mails of juvenile bullying, cell phone sexting, and R-rated language. Not even Hollywood could dream up a script that would come close to this.
In Canada last year, LIVs voted to make a Snapchat/Instagram selfie-obsessed candidate our prime minister. Not accounting for partisanship, the last federal election was a very poor example of what election campaigns are supposed to look like.
Imagine how things would change if we educated our next generation to ignore the sideshow antics, the social media snapshots, and the meaningless jargon. Instead, imagine if the next generation of voters demanded to review a candidate’s platform, understood the costs associated with implementing the candidate’s policies, and then made an informed decision of which candidate had the better plan for our country.
Canadians would be better off if we re-introduced reason and consideration into our elections.
Mandatory civics classes within the high school curriculum could provide this much-needed instruction. An education in civics would outline the important responsibilities of citizenship, such as informed voting, understanding our rights as citizens, and identifying ways we can shape our futures. Armed with this information, perhaps LIVs will become a thing of the past.
And maybe, as voters become more engaged once again in their civic responsibilities, we can work on moving the Tax Freedom Day back, reducing our tax obligations with better informed voting decisions.
Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun.