(Above: Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre, along with the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres of Ottawa and the City for All Women Initiative, recently launched the Making Votes Count Where We Live initiative at City Hall.)
Voter turnout has a dismal record. Ottawa’s 2014 municipal election had fewer than 40 per cent votes cast. Ontario’s 2014 provincial election had a 51 per cent voter turnout rate, while voter turnout was only 61 per cent in the 2011 federal election.
The impact of low voter turnout is especially felt among low-income residents, who are less likely to vote than higher-income voters. City for All Women Initiative Volunteer Jacqueline Nyiramukwende said, “It is the experience of poverty itself that will discourage one from voting; how do you find time juggling so many concerns? Besides, people living on low income have come to the conclusion that, who will listen to a poor person anyway.”
We can do better. It’s time for people living on low income to be heard in the 2015 federal election. Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre, along with the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres of Ottawa and the City for All Women Initiative, has embarked on a three-year project, Making Votes Count Where We Live. Working alongside women living on low incomes to engage residents to vote, over 200 people were interviewed, including Aboriginal people, francophones, recent immigrants, people with disabilities, rural residents, seniors, and youth about their voting experience. It was found that the majority of participants felt positive about voting.
”People who have more money have more ability to do things but with voting, it’s equal… every person, regardless of money, has one vote. One person, one vote,“ said one West Carleton resident.
WOCRC is building on this momentum in the far west-end and rural communities. Community Developers Maria Friis and Julie McKercher are recruiting women living on low income to join women from across the city in sharing insights and developing the skills to encourage others to get involved in the federal election.
Involved in the project is Marta Restrepo. “I have a right to vote. I am happy to vote, eligible to vote and proud. I can’t complain if I don’t vote,” said Restrepo, Civic Engagement Ambassador and recent Canadian citizen.
On Sept. 16 and 18, women selected to participate will learn the skills necessary to facilitate a community café on voting. WOCRC will support transportation and child and family care costs, while an honorarium will be provided in recognition of women using their new skills and insights in the community. Watch for a Making Votes Count Café in your community!
(Maria Friis is a Community Developer with the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre.)