Voting is a poverty reduction strategy

By Franco Savoia

On Saturday, along with many other fellow Calgarians, I went to my local library and voted in our municipal election advance poll. I have always felt that this is a fundamental responsibility for each of us as citizens. And yet, we know that in recent memory only 39 per cent to 53 per cent of Calgarians exercised this vital democratic right (and responsibility)—which means that, at best, only half of our City’s eligible citizens voted.

More than 2,500 years ago, Pericles – a statesman, orator and general in Athens – said, “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in public affairs is a man who minds his own business. We say he has no business being here at all.” Even in the early days of the evolution of democratic principles, there was a recognition that we need to be informed and engaged in our government. One of the most important ways we can do this is to vote. In the act of casting our ballot we affirm our citizenship, as well as our commitment to our community and to our neighbour.

The opening words of Enough for All, Calgary’s poverty reduction strategy, is “Our neighbour’s strength is our strength.” Conversely our neighbour’s weakness is our weakness.  Therefore, the very act of voting can strengthen our connection to our neighbour. Our failure to get out and vote weakens our entire community.

We know that one in ten Calgarians live in scarcity: they don’t have enough income to meet their basic needs. We estimate that at least one in four are working poor: they are earning less than a living wage and, as a result, struggle to meet their housing, food, and transportation needs each day. What’s more, Calgary’s downturn in the economy, which contributed to the current unemployment rate of over 8%, is placing even greater pressure on our social safety net and those who rely on it for meeting their basic needs.

There is data that demonstrates that for our poor, who are faced with the priorities of daily survival, voting becomes a “nice-to” rather than a “need to.” Ironically, given their large number, if those in poverty cast their vote, they could decide who would govern our city and influence policies to reduce poverty in our city. And, at the same time, it would reaffirm their citizenship and begin to lessen their marginalization and sense of powerlessness.

So, what can be done in these final days of the 2017 municipal campaign? First and foremost, we encourage each member of the Enough for All community to vote on October 16th. As important, we are asking the hundreds of front line volunteers and staff who support the poor in our community every day to remind the people they serve to get out and vote. Elections Calgary provides a wealth of information. Share that information with the people you are serving: the location of their polls and the times for voting. When possible, offer assistance to get them to their polling station.

It seems so simple, and yet we are not doing it. It is not too late. Start today. By helping people get out to vote, you will be helping to reduce poverty.

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Franco Savoia is the Executive Director of Vibrant Communities Calgary. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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