If You Want Our Support, Find Out What We Care About
By Sherry Boisvert
On the evening of Oct. 6, 2011, I stepped inside the door of an Iranian restaurant where I was meeting my friend Laura. I was running a bit behind, so by the time I arrived she was already seated at our table. We kissed hello, but before I even settled into my seat I felt compelled to tell Laura I had an embarrassing confession to make. Laura’s smile dissolved into a puzzled look. ” I didn’t vote,” I blurted out, expecting to be chastised, or at least gently rebuked. But Laura just smiled and said, “I didn’t vote either.”
The election has long since passed and now it’s clear that Laura and I were far from alone in our decision to skip the polls.
The Ontario provincial election had its lowest voter turnout ever. From my perspective the reason no one showed up to vote was obvious. Politicians don’t speak to the people. Politicians speak at the people. And they speak in a way that is not only irrelevant to us, or at least to people in my age group. It is inane, tedious and almost insulting.
My message for politicians is this: Get off your canned message points, come speak to people like me, and find out what we care about. There is much lamenting that young people don’t vote. For many of us who don’t, it’s because there is nothing relevant for us to vote on.
Not one message from this year’s election got through to me. As a 34-year old professional woman living in Toronto, there are many things that matter to me. For example, the TTC matters to me. If one party promised to help the city build a subway line directly to the airport, I would have voted for that party.
I heard a great deal about jobs and the economy. These certainly matter to me. But you’ve got to do better than chant “Jobs and the economy! Jobs and the economy! Jobs and the economy!” over and over again. Let’s have a little substance.
As a professional communicator, I tell my clients that their words will carry weight if they are able to connect with their audience on an emotional level. Politicians failed to do that in this election, and the result was predictable. Lowest voter turnout ever.
In fact, the only emotion that candidates seemed interested in creating was fear. With each party going negative, criticizing their opponents and aggressively targeting perceived or potential vulnerabilities, the campaigns were worse than useless to me. I don’t view a pit-bull political style as a leadership characteristic.
Bottom line, I take my privilege to vote seriously but I’m not going to vote for someone because he or she is the best of a bad lot. That would be a violation of my civic duty. I’m going to vote for someone I believe in, someone who can thoughtfully, articulately and convincingly communicate a leadership vision that inspires me. It’s time politicians revisit how they campaign, and start by asking us what we really care about.
When the speech from the throne takes place later this fall, the minority Liberal government will set the tone for government in the coming years. This communication platform presents a tremendous opportunity to change the tone of the discussion, to tone down the ideology and the rhetoric and to begin a new and meaningful conversation with us. We’ll participate in that conversation if you speak with us, not at us.