Two new Canadians from Syria participated in the Nelson Public Library’s Voting 101 session, Anne DeGrace writes. File photo

COLUMN: Library’s Voting 101 session puts election in new light

Anne DeGrace describes a library discussion last week that aimed to “de-spin” the election

By Anne DeGrace

Elections can be confusing. Do we vote for the candidate or the party? Vote strategically, or with the heart? We face a barrage of social media posts and comments, tweets and counter-tweets. Information comes at us across the breadth of the internet as candidates vie for our votes. We know we face huge challenges from social issues to immigration to climates change; it feels big and urgent, not to mention overwhelming.

Teen and literacy services co-ordinator Melodie Rae Storey decided that the library could play a part in demystifying things. Voting 101 took place last week, and while the turnout wasn’t huge, the effect might well have been for the new voters who attended.

“I was hoping to simplify a complex thing by giving people information. There are so many spins in any election — I wanted to de-spin it,” says Melodie Rae. And so Voting 101 was born.

Former Nelson city councillor Donna Macdonald led the library session. “Don’t let others decide the future for you,” she told participants as she walked them through the basics of democracy in Canada, our different levels of government, our party system, and what is meant by left and right and where the different parties fall.

“Donna was non-partisan, patient, and completely uncondescending,” Melodie Rae told me. Important, because it can be hard to ask the questions when you think everyone has the answers but you.

Of course, more of us don’t know the questions to ask than you might realize, and answers can be elusive. But there are tools at hand! The group explored CBC’s Vote Compass as a means of determining how well their views align with the different parties. It’s a great exercise for anyone, available at votecompass.cbc.ca.

A few other good sites to check out are youth.votecompass.com/Canada, which offers a series of quick questions to help you sort out the party that most suits, specifically geared to the younger voter. Along the same vein is studentvote.ca/Canada/campaign-tools, with six questions posed by students that are answered by each party leader.

Your public broadcaster has a whole lot of info on its Canada Votes pages, including a clear and unbiased comparison of the different party platforms and positions on topics that include the climate change, the carbon tax, and pipelines, child care, health care, education, housing, employment, immigration, Indigenous affairs, seniors, budget deficits, gun legislation, taxes and more. That link is newsinteractives.cbc.ca/elections/federal/2019/party-platforms.

General voting information can be found at elections.ca; general voting in Nelson takes place on Monday, Oct. 21 at Central School between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Be sure to bring your ID!

Among the participants in last week’s Voting 101 session were two new Canadians from Syria whose experience there put our own electoral system — flawed as we may sometimes find it — into a different light.

I spent some time on Wikipedia and learned that since 2011, the Syrian Civil War has claimed more than 150,000 lives, displaced a third of the population, and factionalized the rest. The 2014 election — the first in which challenge to the incumbent president was allowed — saw Bashar al-Assad returned to power following nearly 20 years in command, which followed his father’s 30-year presidency. The landslide results of the 2014 Syrian election sparked international reaction that ranged from cautious diplomacy to full denunciation.

On Oct. 8, Macleans magazine published an article by Michael Friscolanti that profiles some of the Syrian-Canadians who are voting for the first time. Tareq Hadhad, whose Nova Scotia business Peace by Chocolate has won the hearts of Martimers, told Friscolanti that “no one in Canada, whether Syrian or not, should take voting for granted. There are people dying around the world to reach the level of democracy we have.”

See you at the polls.

Anne DeGrace is the adult services co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.

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