49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives

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Casting My Ballot

Canadian flag courtesy of WikipediaIt's Election Day in Canada!  I awoke galvanized!  This election is different from any that I can remember in my lifetime.  I feel that the stakes have never been so high.  Really, it's about Canada's heart and soul.

For the past ten years, the Conservative Party has been in power.  They were elected on their campaign of "accountability" in the wake of the Liberal Party sponsorship scandal.  Since then, for the past several elections most of the country has been trying to remove them because they've dragged us through one scandal after another, one unconstitutional law after another, one restriction to our freedom after another. I have no words for how much I loathe them, and I have lots of reasons.  The reason why Canada has not succeeded in removing them is the odd way in which our electoral process works.

In the first place, we don't have two major parties; we have three -- the Conservatives, the New Democratic Party, and the Liberals.  So often, even when a party by itself has only a third of the country's support, the opposing vote is often divided between the other two major parties and the handful of known-but-minor ones, such as the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois.

Secondly, we don't really elect the Prime Minister; we elect individual Members of Parliament to seats in Ottawa from our electoral ridings.  Most of those MPs, as we call them for short, are members of the parties; the party with the most seats forms government.

Often we'll end up with no one party having a majority of the seats.  In that case, we have what we call a "minority government," which means that the governing party requires the support of one or more of the other major parties to pass legislation.  It sounds awkward, but it can actually work very well as a natural check and balance.  We call the party who came in second the "Official Opposition," and it is their job to serve in that capacity.

What we end up with is a situation where certain key ridings are more important than others for securing power.  This is one reason why the Bloc Quebecois, whose interest is to form a separate country out of the province of Quebec, managed at one point to gain enough support to form the Official Opposition, even though they are irrelevant or opposed to the interests of anyone outside the province of Quebec.

For these reasons the Conservative Party has managed to hold on to power for several years, despite the fact that most of the country hates them and especially the party leader, Stephen Harper.

It's perhaps somewhat ironic that I was reading the end an Honor Harrington sci-fi book as I had my morning coffee.  In Ashes of Victory the Constitutional Monarchy (which is what Canada's government is) had a change of government at the end of the book that gummed up their system completely.  I hope it's not foreshadowing.

I took the keys to the car from my roommate, who voted on his way home from work this morning.  Perhaps it speaks to the mood of the country -- or at least my household -- that we high-fived as I marched out the door, like a wrestler "tagging in" their partner.  "Happy Get Rid of Harper Day!" he waved cheerfully to me as I got in the car.  I felt like a soldier girding my loins for battle.

I sure hope he's right.  My biggest fear is that once again the Conservatives will divide the left and moderate votes enough that no individual party will garner enough support to form government.  And nobody really knows what will happen.  At the beginning of the election process, it looked like the NDP was a shoe-in; which made me happy because my politics are decidedly left, and this is the party of social democrats (the kinds of people who start social programs and support public services).  However, Harper's political advisers knew that one of the longest elections in Canadian history -- 78 days -- would wear down momentum and support for change.  Now it looks like the country is leaning to the moderate Liberal party, who tends to campaign left and govern right, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau.

I initially was going to support Trudeau.  The son of one of the most famous Prime Ministers in Canadian history, he is young as far as politicians go and works as a teacher.  I thought he'd be more in touch with the needs of the "average Canadians" I know that some of the others.  But he lost my trust completely when he chose to support the passing of our version of the unconstitutional Patriot Act, which was known here as Bill C-51, on the grounds that "it was necessary in order to not make it into an election issue; but once we're in power, we'll repeal it."  Yeah, right.  Sure you will.

But I still have hope.  For one thing, the polls consider traditional voting patterns of given ridings, as well as the sample they surveyed, in predicting results.  Since the New Democrats have never formed a federal government in Canada (though they have been the Official Opposition for several years now; something our media seems inclined to conveniently forget) this would affect how the possible results are weighted.  For another, there has been a strong push by First Nations leaders to support the NDP in this election, since party leader Tom Mulcair is the only one who has spoken consistently about the rights of indigenous Canadians.  Traditionally they don't tend to take much interest in federal elections, since each registered band effectively counts as its own mini-nation in Canada (something like a city-state) which are largely self-governing.

And there's also been a huge push to get out the youth vote.  I've been working very hard at it myself, and I've never seen the younger generation so motivated to get involved.  My son is organizing to drive his friends to the polls and my nephew, who just turned eighteen, went out of his way to jump through the government's new restrictive voting laws (which, since they require ID to be presented at the polls, restrict the ability of young people and poor people to vote) to make sure he had the ability to cast his first ballot today.

Last, there is a strong movement which is commonly known as ABC "Anybody But Conservative."  They are recommending that people vote with an eye to stymieing the Conservatives, as opposed to firmly supporting another leader.  They have identified key ridings in which supporting one of the other two major parties could be the deciding factor to prevent a Conservative victory; while dividing the vote in those ridings probably assures one.  I'm fortunate in that in my riding the party I'm supporting is the same as the one that's most likely to defeat the Conservatives, so my heart and my head both knew what they were going to do without internal conflict.

I drove down to the large church in the neighbourhood that has been designated as my polling station right away because I figured there was no point in waiting.  I had trouble finding a place to park.  Good; that tells me that people are coming out of the woodwork.  Only 61.4% of us turned out to vote in the last election.  I'm pretty sure this is exactly as the Conservatives liked it.  People felt too defeated to make an effort if they disagreed.  But not today.  We apparently had record numbers turn up to vote in the advance polls and I hope to see similar numbers today.

No one feels like their single vote counts; but it does, it really does.  In the last election the Conservatives won by a fingernail.  What would have happened if everyone who hates the situation had gotten involved?  I hope they paid attention.  I hope they're coming out today.

Some say the system is rigged.  In a way they're not wrong.  Certainly it makes it easier for some parties to function than others.  It used to be easier for small parties to get involved because public money was available based on total number of votes, but due to more and more restrictive election spending laws that favour rich people they have all but disappeared.  Left-thinking Pagans often support the Green Party, which really only has a chance of holding one seat, which is in the home riding of the party leader Elizabeth May.  I am often torn between the Green and the Orange (colour of the NDP) myself.  Perhaps if the NDP gets a strong enough support base they will bring in the electoral reforms they've been campaigning about, which will give more of a voice to the smaller parties and bring in a more equal system of representation.  The Liberal party promptly agreed to that too; but I imagine whether or not they'll actually implement it will depend upon who the Official Opposition turns out to be.  Right now, my best hope seems to be a Liberal minority government with the NDP as the Official Opposition.  My pendulum gives me hope that I might be able to expect this.

Some say that this is why they don't vote, but I think it's all the more reason to vote!  If the system is rigged against the little guy, then the little guy needs all the help s/he can get!

I brought a book (Brendan Myers' A Pagan Testament) to read because I expected a line-up.  And there was one, but it moved quickly.  The Elections Canada volunteer at the door (an agency that used to be completely independent, now overseen by the government) did something that had never been done before at any election I've voted in; he took my ID to "confirm my address."

But my ID was ready so I was directed to one of the polling stations .  "Good morning, ladies," I sang cheerfully.  I was feeling good.  I was ready.

"Good morning!" one of them smiled.  "How are you today?"

"Good!" I grinned.  "Excited," I admitted.

Her smile broadened.  "Yes, I'm excited to see the results too."

There was no knowing look.  It's solemn tradition, which we regard as almost sacred, not to influence each others' vote, and to cast your ballot entirely in secret.  No one has the right to know who you voted for.

They took my registration card and my ID again, crossed my name off their list, and gave me my ballot.  I left my things on the table, went behind the privacy screen, and clearly marked my X.  They folded it up, ripped the identifying number off for their own records, and I stuffed it into the box.  "There!" I said with a strong sense of satisfaction.

"Congrats!  You contributed," smiled the older lady at the polling station.

And that's the point, isn't it?  To do your part.  To make your splash and speak out with your voice.  People have killed and died for the right to say who will govern them.  Athena gave us this sacred ritual.  My Goddess commands that I shall "be free from slavery," and that I "keep pure (my) highest ideal.  Strive ever towards it.  Let naught stop you or turn you aside."

So I participated in the ritual.  I cast my ballot.  And now let my Will, as part of the collective Will of Canada, truly be done.

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Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) has been a traditional witch most of her life, and she is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. Author of "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power" (Red Wheel/Weiser 2014) and contributor to "Pagan Consent Culture" and "The Pagan Leadership Anthology," she also writes "Between the Shadows" at Patheos' Pagan channel and contributes to Gods & Radicals. Sable is just breaking out as a speculative fiction writer under her legal name, and a new serial, the Wyrd West Chronicles, will be released on the Spring Equinox this year. Like most writers, she does a lot of other things to help pay the bills, including music, Etsy crafts, and working part time at a bookstore. She lives in Vernon, BC, Canada with her two life partners and her furbabies in a cabin on the edge of the woods.


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