Would Someone Please Tell Me What To Think?

The Yukon municipal elections are upon us; but how many of us really care? It sounds like a rhetorical question, but it’s not.

Thirty-seven percent — that’s the answer. 37 percent of us care, or at least that’s the proportion of eligible Whitehorse voters who dragged a pencil across a ballot in 2009, the last time we selected a mayor and full council.

It’s not lost on me that by the time many of you read this article, the October 18 voting day will have come and gone. With that in mind, it is not productive to write a lectern-pounding lecture on civic responsibility.

But it is worth enquiring: why does our most local, hands-on, and direct form of democratic enfranchisement inspire such apathy (oxymoron) in the electorate? After all, a “whopping” 68 and 76 percent of eligible Yukoners voted in the 2011 federal and territorial elections, respectively.

Is it that the absence of parties in our municipal politics inevitably results in an absence of public excitement?

Political parties are kind of fun, or more accurately, they are appealing to those seeking membership in something larger than themselves. By casting a vote for a candidate that’s hitched to an organized ideology, one feels like a real player in a large-scale drama. One has a colour to identity with (remember the “orange crush”) and a team to root for.

But consider Vancouver, where political parties are part of the municipal landscape. In the election of November 2011 Gregor Robertson was re-elected mayor under the Vision Vancouver banner. The voter turnout? Less than 35 percent. It seems that even the promise of team-identification does little to stem the tide of municipal ambivalence.

A more likely explanation for the low turnouts is that in civic elections media coverage is comparatively sparse and campaign budgets are comparatively puny. Doesn’t Dave Stockdale use the same damn billboards, election after election?

The shame of this is what it reveals about us — the electorate. Media saturation and slick ad campaigns are designed to obscure issues and manipulate opinions, and yet it is these very ills that propel us to the polls.

In civic elections, which are relatively free of such Machiavellian dog-wagging, we couldn’t be bothered.

The uncomfortable conclusion is that we, as citizens, enjoy being manipulated; we feel more confident exercising our suffrage when our electoral awareness has been furnished by people who spin us for a living.

I count myself as part of the problem. As a follower of that grand soap opera south-of-the-border, I can tell you all about Romney’s “47%” gaffe, or how Obama got his you-know-what handed to him in the first presidential debate. But put a list of people running for city council in front of me and watch my face go blank.

This is a problem because no matter how powerful Mitt and Barack are, neither one of them will decide how often my road gets plowed.

Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon

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