Photography by David Wile Image by: Photography by David Wile
Define your own issues
Jobs, the economy and the environment are all hot-button topics, but Mercer warns against letting the leaders' dialogue dictate what you think is important in the upcoming election. "The party in power would like to define the issues as the ones they think are their strengths," he says. "But it's up to the individuals, too." Your age, job, lifestyle and values help determine your priorities. A smart vote for you might be different from how your parents and your spouse choose to vote.
Tune out the negativity
Pessimistic about politics? It isn't you. "Politics is the only business where the main stakeholders derive benefit from turning people off of the process," says Mercer. "Politicians intentionally poison the entire market because, in many instances, they're just as glad if people get turned off and stay home; therefore, they only have to concentrate on their base." Rather than give up, recognize that some messages are just noise. Political parties spend more money on attack ads every year, yet most of the criticism is based on a candidate's appearance, notes Mercer. His advice? "When people have nothing good to say about themselves and all they can do is criticize everyone else, you want to look at them and ask, 'What are they all about?'"
We each vote for our member of Parliament, but in the weeks before we head to the polls, we hear far more about potential prime ministers than we ever do about the names on our ballots. Mercer says it's important to get to know local representatives. "You need an MP who will stand up for your concerns in your riding. And they have to be hardworking because MPs do a lot of work." What you don't want is a sheep. "If you sense the only thing that person cares about is doing what the party wants him to do," says Mercer, "I would run for the hills."
Put away excuses
Not voting means not being heard. If Parliament confuses you, do a bit of research, says Mercer. "There are far more complicated things in this world." Think the candidates are all the same? "You're wrong," says Mercer. "They have very different opinions and agendas." He suggests voting is habit-building: If you start doing it, you'll keep doing it. And bring your kids along—watching you vote will turn them into voters.
After all, says Mercer, voting is the most important thing any citizen can do. "It's an obligation. And I know this would be a far, far better country if people took it seriously."
To learn more about Rick Mercer, our October guest editor, click here.
This story was originally part of "Finding Your Voting Voice" in the October 2015 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!