Royce Shook

2 years ago · 3 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Get out and vote!

Get out and vote on Monday, if you live in Canada. I am not apolitical; I am a progressive. In Canada I would be seen as left of center, in Britain, I would be seen as Labor, in the United States, I would be seen as a left-leaning Democrat or a socialist or worse.

I have friends who are right of center and they would be seen in Britain as conservative and in the United States, they would be identified as Republicans.

I have friends who are independent voters and decide who to vote for based on what the person they are voting for will do for the riding. No matter what my friend's political affiliation is we all believe that it is our obligation to vote. I vote to cancel out their votes and they vote to cancel out mine. :-) However, we all vote and remarkably in this time of political turmoil, we talk and agree to disagree on some items. We also remain friends.

Voting is a hard-won fight for those of us who have the freedom to vote. While the right to vote is widely recognized as a fundamental human right, this right is not fully enforced for millions of individuals around the world. Consistently disenfranchised groups include non-citizens, young people, minorities, those who commit crimes, the homeless, disabled persons, and many others who lack access to the vote for a variety of reasons including poverty, illiteracy, intimidation, or unfair election processes.

In Canada prior to Confederation, you could only vote if you held property, took an oath and were a Christian, which meant that many could not vote for example those of the Jewish faith or Quakers could not vote.

In 1867, the definition of the franchise was left to the provinces. This meant that eligibility to vote in a federal election could vary from one province to the other. All provinces, however, restricted the franchise to male British subjects who were at least 21 years old who had a property qualification. For the first 50 years after Confederation, the Liberal and Conservative parties manipulated the federal franchise in a blatantly partisan fashion. Because until 1885 the vote was based on provincial law, elections were staggered, meaning they could be held on different days in different places. Voters in one constituency might already know which party was likely to form the government. This created a powerful incentive to vote for the governing party which would either be the Conservatives or the Liberals.

Canada's most controversial franchise legislation was adopted by Parliament during the First World War. The Wartime Elections Act and the Military Voters Act of 1917 enfranchised female relatives of men serving with the Canadian or British armed forces as well as all servicemen (including those under 21 and status Indians); it disenfranchised conscientious objectors and British subjects, naturalized after 1902, who were born in an enemy country or who habitually spoke an enemy language. This last rule disenfranchised my grandparents on my mother’s side.

In 1920, the Dominion Elections Act said that if a province discriminated against a group by reason of race, that group would also be excluded from the federal franchise, meaning that British Columbia residents of Chinese, Japanese and South Asian backgrounds lost their right to vote in national elections. (Saskatchewan also disenfranchised the Chinese.) 

In 1948, the federal government voted to repeal this section of the Dominion Elections Act. However, the change did not come into effect until 1 April 1949, when Japanese Canadians also regained the right to live anywhere in Canada. Only a week earlier, the British Columbia government had amended the Provincial Elections Act to enfranchise all racial groups in the province, excluding Doukhobors. The last statutory disenfranchisement of Asian Canadians was removed.

Although occasional instances were recorded of women voting in pre-Confederation Canada until 1849, Canadian women were systematically and universally disenfranchised. Apart from the temporary and selective enfranchisement of women under the Wartime Elections Act, women were first granted the right to vote federally in 1918.

In 1916, Manitoba became the first province to enfranchise women for provincial elections; in 1940, Québec was the last province to do so. In 1951, the Northwest Territories became the last territory to grant women the vote.

Non-status Indians received full voting rights at the provincial level, starting in British Columbia in 1949 and ending with Québec in 1969. The federal franchise was first extended to non-status Indians in 1950. The franchise fully extended to status Indians in 1960 under the John Diefenbaker administration, 12 years after (in 1972) a parliamentary committee recommended that First Nations be fully enfranchised.

The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights of citizenship. In Canada, the right to vote has gone from being held by a relatively small group — Protestant men who owned property — to being widely held. The development of the franchise in Canada thus reflects Canada’s maturation as a liberal democracy. A hard fight by our great grandparents and our grandparents and our parents gave us all the right to vote. Use it!


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