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Alona Mercado     Will you vote in this federal election?

On the front page of the Pilipino Express’ April 1st-15th, 2011 issue, the headline read, “Canadians vote May 2. Will You Vote?”

I have always found it incredible that people who live in a democracy take it for granted by not exercising their right to vote. All around the world, we see turmoil in countries where the citizens are crying out for more freedoms and the democratic right to vote. However, here in Canada, Canadians throw away this right as if it were meaningless.

With each general election that passes, fewer and fewer Canadians are voting. The reasons people give for not voting range from “I don’t have the time” to “All the parties are the same anyway” to “I don’t care”. As someone who has voted in every election since my 18th birthday, whether it was a federal, provincial, or municipal election, a general election or a by-election, this boggles my mind.

The federal government plays an extremely important part in all our lives regardless of which political party is in power. Given this reality, it should be very important to each and every one of us which party forms the government.

Non-Confidence Vote and Contempt of Parliament

In this election, there are clear differences between the two main political parties – the Liberals and the Conservatives. Both are attempting to convince the Canadian electorate that they have the best plan for Canada. It will remain to be seen who will prevail on Election Day.

What is clear, however, is that many Canadians are confused about the actual events that led to the election call. There is a common misconception that this election was a direct result of the Harper budget being rejected by the Opposition parties. That belief is wrong. The Federal Budget was tabled (i.e. introduced) in the House of Commons on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011. Members of Parliament were scheduled to vote on the Budget on the afternoon of Friday, March 25th, 2011. However, this vote on the Budget was scheduled to take place after the Liberal’s non-confidence motion scheduled after lunch.

For weeks leading up to March 25th, there was a lot of talk regarding the Harper government’s “contempt” of Parliament. The information and the Parliamentary rulings were all coming out one right after the other. The Speaker of the House slapped the Harper government with two contempt rulings stemming from their refusal to disclose required details regarding the real cost of the F-35 fighter jets, the Conservative anti-crime agenda and their corporate tax cuts.

There was also the Bev Oda fiasco where she finally admitted after weeks of denials and stalling that she was the one responsible for inserting the word “Not” into a document that refused funding to an organization. In addition, Elections Canada officially laid charges against the Conservative Party and four of its members, including two Conservative Senators, in late February in relation to the “in and out” campaign financing case regarding violations of the Canada Elections Act. All of these scandals led the Opposition parties to charge that the Harper government does not respect democracy or our Parliamentary institutions.

On Friday, March 25th, 2011, two important votes were scheduled to take place: the non-confidence vote and the budget vote. Both votes had the potential to bring down the government. The non-confidence vote was scheduled first and the motion read:

“That the House agrees with the finding of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the government.”

This non-confidence vote passed thereby marking the first time in Canadian history that a government has ever been held in contempt of Parliament. In fact, this is the first time in the history of all fifty-four Commonwealth nations that a government has ever been held in contempt of Parliament. It was a historic ruling and a black mark upon Harper’s government. Since the non-confidence vote passed, this effectively ended the Harper government and therefore no vote on the budget ever took place.

The fact that Harper’s government was found in contempt of Parliament also meant that his government lost the confidence of the House of Commons. As I have said in previous articles, in Canada we have a constitutional monarchy that governs on the principles of responsible government.

Responsible Government

Responsible government is the system of government in which the party that holds the most number of seats in Parliament will be called upon by the Governor General to form the Government of Canada. However, this government can only stay in power for so long as it enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons. In other words, the moment this government loses the confidence of the House of Commons, its leader (i.e. the Prime Minister) must go to the Governor General and ask for an election. The Governor General must make a choice at this point. He can either grant an election or ask the leader of the party with the second most seats in the House of Commons to try to form a government without holding another election first. In Canada, the Governor General chose the first option when Harper asked him to call an election. This is why Canadians are having a general election on Monday, May 2nd, 2011.

Sino ang karapat-dapat sa boto ninyo?

The choice is yours who you feel should be given the privilege of your vote. Regardless of whom you choose, it is very important that you exercise your right to vote. There are many ways to exercise this right. You can vote on Election Day (May 2nd, 2011) from 8:30 am to 8:30 pm or you can vote during one of the three advance polling dates – Friday, April 22nd, Saturday, April 23rd, or Monday, April 25th from noon to 8:00 pm. Or you can go to your local Elections Canada office and vote right now by special ballot, in person, any time before 6:00 pm on Tuesday, April 26th.

If you or a loved one is unable to physically go and vote, you may vote by a special ballot that is mailed in. For more information about special ballots, you can contact Elections Canada at 1-800-463-6868 or go to www.elections.ca.

In addition, all registered voters should be receiving their Voter Information card between April 8th and April 13th. This card will tell you the location of your polling station for the advance polls and for Election Day. If you have not received this card, contact Elections Canada to ensure that you are registered to vote. This is very important for individuals who have just turned 18 and to our bagong datings who have just become Canadian citizens.

During this election season, there have been televised leaders debates, local candidate debates, political ads on television and newspapers. We have also received numerous pamphlets in the mail and telephone calls from all the parties soliciting our support.

What will you do? How will you choose? Will you exercise your democratic right to vote? For me, it’s a given that I will vote. And for my regular readers, you also know that it’s a given that I will vote for the Liberal Party.

The content of this article is not intended as legal advice and is for information purposes only. Should you require legal advice on a specific issue relating to the contents of this article, please seek the services of a legal professional.

Alona C. Mercado is a lawyer practising in Winnipeg with the law firm of Monk Goodwin LLP. She was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1999 and the Ontario Bar in 2003. Her preferred areas of practice include wills and estates, committees, real estate, and immigration law. Alona can be reached at (204) 956-1060 ext. 233 or amercado@monkgoodwin.com.

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