This was the scene on Monday night when J. and I walked up the street to cast our votes in the Canadian federal election. The polling place was in the basement of a former parochial school, now turned into housing units. It was two hours before the polls would close, and there was a long line: we later learned that the turnout was the heaviest in recent memory - 68.4% of Canadians voted. That's almost 70%! It looked to me like there were a lot of young people in our local line, but it was definitely a mixed crowd.
(photo from Elections Canada)
As first-time voters, we had no idea what to do or expect, and our awkwardness was smilingly noted by helpful elections officials. Once inside the building, we were directed to tables, each staffed by two volunteers, that had been set up for the various numbered polls assigned to that particular location. After registering to vote, we had received cards in the mail from Elections Canada, indicating the number and location of our polling place, and our names were checked off on a printed list after we provided a government ID - a driver's license, health card, passport, etc. Then we were given a small paper ballot after one margin was creased and torn off by the polling official. To vote, you stand behind a folded cardboard shield on a small stand. There was a pencil, and you vote by simply making an "x" in the circle by the name of the Parliamentary candidate you wanted to choose. Afterwards you fold the ballot, the other margin is torn off, and you put it into a cardboard box with a slot. Our box was full, so the official picked it up and gave it a good shake, smiling at me, before putting it down to receive my vote.
(photo from Elections Canada)
Never, in all my years of voting, have I seen such a streamlined, simple, accessible procedure. We felt so good about it we practically skipped home. And, as the night went on, we were very happy about the results.
A lot has been written about the Liberal sweep and our new, young, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. I've seen him in person, and he is indeed charismatic and handsome, but it remains to be seen what he will do as leader. My sympathies are more in line with the NDP, the New Democratic Party (and in our riding we re-elected our NDP MP). That's also the case for many Canadians, who voted strategically for the Liberals instead, to ensure that Harper would be out; I don't think the results should be seen as a repudiation of the NDP. Americans should realize that Canadian Liberals are well to the left of most American Democrats. It bodes well that one of Trudeau's first acts was to announce the withdrawal of Canadian troops from airstrike missions in the Middle East; ruefully, I remembered standing on the Washington mall listening to Obama''s inaugural address almost eight years ago when he promised to close Guantanamo and bring American troops home.
Canada doesn't have the same position of power or responsibility in the world, but it does have the opportunity for moral leadership on many issues. Harper's aggressive, conservative stance, lack of concern for the environment, and bigotry have dismayed a majority of Canadians for years, but the opposition has lacked leadership as well as being split between two parties, neither of which were able to gain a majority. When Trudeau spoke of the need to regain our position as world leaders on the environment, human rights, and other issues, it could have been empty rhetoric, but his initial act seems to indicate otherwise. We shall see. He's going to have plenty of work to do, repairing an ailing economy, improving relations with world leaders, especially the U.S., trying to reverse years of austerity and cutbacks, sending new messages about immigration and diversity, working on climate change. For now, I'm simply happy about the possibility of a new beginning, and happy I live in a country where people haven't become too cynical to believe they are part of a democracy, and that this means showing up to vote and taking back the reins of power from a party that has gone way too far.