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Alona Mercado     Decisions are made by those who show up

For those of you who watched The West Wing, you will recognize this line as one spoken by fictional President Jed Bartlet to a group of students at a town hall meeting. I felt that this would be a good theme for my article especially in light of the fact that we are now headed into an extended election season.

As we all know, Winnipeg voters head to the polls on Wednesday, October 27, to elect our mayor, city councillors and school board trustees. In addition to this, the voters of Manitoba will head to the polls to elect the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and thus the Premier of Manitoba on October 4, 2011, which will be our province’s first fixed election date. Both the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition held rallies for their parties recently to mark the official kick-off of the yearlong campaign season.

And, not to be left out, the Prime Minster must call a by-election for the federal riding of Winnipeg North within the next few weeks. If, however, you are a resident of Winnipeg North, you probably thought the election had been called a long time ago because of all the signs and billboards evident throughout the riding. In fact, I’ve been asked several times over the past couple of weeks exactly when the election will take place and all I could say was that it hasn’t been called yet.

Once the Prime Minister calls the by-election, it will set in motion a series of events that may trigger yet another by-election call – but this time by the Premier. Are you confused yet? I know I was because I had to go back and read the election legislation a few times to get it straight in my own mind.

This is how it will work. By law, the Prime Minster must call a by-election within 180 days from the date the seat was vacated (section 31(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act). The election must be held on a Monday and the campaign period must be for at least 36 days from the day the writ of election is issued (section 57(6) of the Parliament of Canada Act). Consequently, it looks like we will have a federal by-election sometime in late November or early December in the federal riding of Winnipeg North.

Once the federal by-election is called, Kevin Lamoureux, who is the nominated Liberal candidate for Winnipeg North, will resign his seat as MLA for Inkster. This will then leave the provincial Inkster seat open. However, because there is less than one year before the fixed general election date, the Premier does not have to call by-election. It will be up to him to decide whether to call a by-election to fill the seat or to leave it open until the general election takes place on October 4, 2011. Incidentally, if no by-election is called, the provincial seat for Inkster will not exist for the October 4, 2011 general election because that election will see new boundaries come into effect. But that’s a whole different issue and will be reserved for another article.

In the event that the Premier does call the by-election, the Elections Act of Manitoba states that it must be held on a Tuesday and that the campaign period must be at least 32 days but not more than 39 days after the writ is issued (section 49(1)(c)(ii)). Depending on the timing, the residents of Inkster could see themselves voting in a federal by-election on the Monday and then voting in a provincial by-election the next day.

With all these elections on the horizon, it would be easy for us to come up with many excuses as to why we shouldn’t vote such as: “I voted already in the civic so I don’t have to vote in the federal”; “They’re all the same anyway so I just won’t vote” or; “This is just a by-election, I’ll just vote during the general election.” In my opinion, none of these excuses are valid.

We have the privilege of living in a democracy where we are given the opportunity to voice our opinions and have a say in the process. Whether you decide to stand as a candidate, to volunteer for one of the many campaigns or, most importantly, to exercise your democratic right to vote, you are playing an important role in our democracy. If no one participated, then what kind of a nation would we have?

Decisions are made by those who show up. If you are passionate about a candidate, a party, an issue or a cause, elections are your opportunity to make a difference. If you don’t like what you see and you think we’re going in the wrong direction, sitting at home complaining about it will not change anything nor will it solve the problem. Get involved in the process. Volunteer for a candidate or a political party. Become informed about the issues. But most important, go out and vote because decisions are made by those who show up.

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

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