In case you’ve been living under a rock the last few weeks (or under a thesis), you should know that today, Monday April 7, 2014 is election day in Québec. Across the province, people are making their voices heard in what has been an interesting (to say the least) election campaign.
This year, it was easier than ever for students to vote, as we could vote on campus over a period of four days. As a resident of a riding outside of Montreal, this made life easier for me, as I’m sure it did for many other students. I actually cast my ballot last week, without trouble. Then again, I have been resident here for more nearly 7 years; I pay taxes here, I have a Québec driver’s licence, a RAMQ card, and I own a house in Trois-Rivières. I’m already on the list of registered voters. I walked up to the polling station, presented my identification, and was handed a list of candidates for my riding, marked my ballot, placed it in a sealed envelope and went on my merry way.
That was the easy part. Less obvious was the question of who to vote for. The election campaign was called in part to provide a mandate to go forward with the controversial charter of values, but ended up addressing questions of identity and being played as a pre-referendum poll. And despite the break in the hearings, the Charbonneau inquiry into collusion and corruption is an ever-present subject. I have never had such a difficult time in deciding who to vote for, while at the same time feeling the importance of making my voice heard.
As an English speaker based outside of Montréal and originally from outside the province, I often feel left out of Québec politics, and this election is no exception. The major parties aren’t suggesting much of anything new, but what really made a difference for me was the approach of the different parties to minorities, be they cultural or linguistic. This divisive rhetoric has sadly leached into all aspects of the election process.
One of the most visible aspects of this has been stories of student voters being turned away from registering to vote . This has been demoralizing, though I hope that most of these cases were overblown – I did see people coming to vote on campus who hadn’t bothered to bring any identification, and were not surprisingly turned away. It must be said that the laws surrounding who can and can’t register to vote are different from the rest of the country. That being said, these issues could be eliminated by providing clear rules about what documentation you require in order to vote. Making the voting atmosphere even more unpleasant were unfounded accusations of Ontario students “stealing” the elections, and hypothetical “rich McGill students” restricting access to public swimming pools. None of these stories help the sense of feeling like you don’t belong. But I guess it does make it more interesting to participate in public life here in Quebec. There’s never a dull moment.
As someone who has the intention of continuing to reside in Québec, all of this adds up to making it more important than ever to vote (while still not wanting to vote for any of the parties). Whatever your political leanings, your feelings about independence, the charter of values, the economy, corruption, and the rest of it, you can’t make a difference if you don’t make your voice heard. I’ll be watching the outcome with great interest.