Statistics Canada disclosed last week that the interest of Canadian young adults in voting is as minimal as it ever was – this despite the millions spent by Canada’s chief electoral officer to get them out to the polls.
The key influence in deciding whether young adults vote, Statscan also found, had little to do with what the government told them, or even their schools. The determining factor was their family. If their parents were politically active, so were they. If the parents were not interested, neither were they.
Now this second fact – the indestructible dominance of the family influence – came as a final repudiation on the self-appointed mission of Canada’s long-time chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who under the long, leprous era of Liberal parliaments converted his office into a propaganda agency for liberal causes. To my knowledge, there is no parallel in the U.S. system.
Nor in the Canadian either for that matter, until Jean-Pierre K. got the job in 1990 and held it for the next 17 years. He suddenly, though predictably, resigned last February – not too late, however, for a pre-retirement fact-finding jaunt to England (price $39,000) and a final $822 eve-of-retirement dinner with his immediate colleagues, all taxpayer-funded.
It remained, however, for Canada’s REAL Women organization to bid farewell to Jean-Pierre K. somewhat less enthusiastically, by recounting in its bulletin how radically he had expanded the role of “chief electoral officer” into a liberal lobby.
The election law empowers the chief officer to “implement public and information programs to make the electoral process better known.” Jean-Pierre’s predecessors felt this confined them to acquainting the public with the way the process works. To Jean-Pierre, this was far too modest. He saw it as a license to teach the voters not only how to cast a ballot, but also how to think, how to revolutionize Canada, and how to prevent the mere citizenry from raising extraneous issues during election campaigns – like abortion, or gay rights, or euthanasia, or other things not on the official political menu.
He declared it an offense under the Election Act for an individual or any group not registered as a political party to run ads or distribute polemical literature during an election campaign. In this, he was vehemently opposed by the National Citizens’ Coalition whose president labeled Jean-Pierre “dangerous” to Canadian democracy. The NCC’s president was Stephen Harper, who is now prime minister of Canada.
If democracy suffered under Jean-Pierre’s regime, feminism prospered. Campaigns to induce or even compel by quota more women into political office found ready support in Elections Canada whose website helpfully displayed feminist literature.
But Jean-Pierre’s most tireless efforts were aimed at youth. The Elections Canada website features a “youth section” with computer games and trivia, all urging that it’s cool to vote. Most “innovative” of all – many would say most outrageous – came in 1999 when Elections Canada wrote 15,000 Canadian schools, asking them to conduct a vote by school children on the U.N.‘s “Rights of the Child.”
The child had to decide which “right” he favored most. Was it his right to determine on his own what he read without parental interference, for example? Or his right to express his opinions without parental censorship? Or his right to prohibit his parents from intruding upon his “privacy”? Since neither provincial education departments nor school boards were consulted, a fury followed, and many schools ignored the “vote.” But to Jean-Pierre, all of this was part of “making the electoral process better known.”
None of it worked, according to Statscan. The survey found that, as usual, only 59 percent of people in their 20s were voters, compared with 71 percent of people 33 to 44, and 85 percent of those over 45. The national average was 77 percent. And in the end it’s the example of the parent that decides.
I saw this demonstrated firsthand. For about 75 years, the Soviet state tirelessly strove to supplant parental influence with state influence. After Glasnost, my friend Yuri Makarov, a Russian engineer, migrated to Canada and, finding no immediate work in his field, took a job assembling bicycles.
“What are you doing?” asked his 90-some-year-old father by telephone from Russia. Embarrassed by his non-professional status, Yuri replied, “I’m unemployed.” After some seconds of silence, his father spoke: “Listen! A Makarov can be employed. A Makarov can be in the army. A Makarov can be in jail. NO MAKAROV IS EVER UNEMPLOYED!”
So much for 75 years of propaganda. What mattered was the family. Kingsley was beaten before he started.