I wouldn’t consider myself to be overly nationalistic. I also don’t think I have very many traditions or rituals the I follow. Never-the-less, on Canada Day you can usually find me at Labatt Park watching the London Majors play a baseball game, followed by fireworks over the Thames River.
In fact, I can only think of a few times in my life when this wasn’t the case. There was a Canada Day as a teenager when my family was spending the summer in England and we toured a ruined castle. We questioned why the castle was flying a Canadian Flag, and the tour guide reminded us that it was Canada Day – we were so jet lagged we lost track of what day it was…come to think of it we also forgot my birthday that year.
When I was 19 I spent Kanada Tag in Germany with some friends while on a high school student exchange. I honestly can’t remember if we did any kind of celebration. We probably waved flags and drank beer in the back yard.
Finally, when I was in Australia I spent Canada Day with hundreds of Canadians celebrating in North Sydney organized by a wonderful group of people called “Network Canada”. They bill themselves as the largest Canada Day celebration outside of Canada. It is complete with artificially created snow, a giant inflatable snowman, Poutine, Perogies, imported Moosehead and Caesar cocktails. I even won a prize, which I think was a package of Tim Horton’s coffee.
Last year I went downtown minus and hat or sunscreen which I quickly corrected via the exchange of money in a variety store, then I mingled downtown before following the traditional baseball game along with some friends.
But this year is different. Due to the COVID19 Virus, the baseball game and the fireworks are both cancelled. With nothing else to do, I picked up a full shift at work and I will be making double time-and-a-half today. When that’s done I will probably sit in a Muskoka Chair in the backyard, listen to a podcast and halfheartedly wave a tiny Canadian flag. This Canada Day I will earn some extra money so that I can take a vacation when this pandemic is over, and hopefully next year we all go back to our Canada Day traditions.
For now, here is a photo of me at last year’s Canada Day in an enormous Muskoka Chair, and another one of me with a government issued Canadian flag and an awkwardly placed Blue Jays hat.
I’ve never understood people who choose not to vote.
I should probably expand on that statement, by saying I have never understood people who choose not to vote in Canada.
I have always been interested in politics and the political process. While I recognize that not everyone is as invested in the outcome or the operation of democracy as I am, it is not unreasonable to ask that once in a while you take a little time out of your day to make a piece of paper and put it into a box.
In August 2013 I served as a poll clerk during the byelection in London West in Ontario Canada. This was not my first time observing the process all day. During the previous election I served as a scrutineer for a political party. Essentially a scrutineer is a volunteer who watches people vote, objects to any perceived injustices or irregularities, and reports back to the party on which of their supporters have voted and so they can focus the get out to vote push on people who have claimed to support the candidate, but haven’t yet voted.
Its a long, boring day and I swore I would never do it again without being paid. So when this opportunity came along I jumped at it.
The process of getting the job is probably the simplest job application I will ever encounter. I was voting a head of time at Elections Ontario HQ and asked if they needed people for election day. I filled out a 1 page form with my name, phone number, and address. The next day they called to tell me where my training would be and where I would be assigned on election day (or E-Day as partisans sometimes call it).
The training for this job is pretty straightforward. Mostly they just introduce you to what a ballot looks like, give you a booklet to read, and play some instructional videos. It takes maybe 2 hours.
Anyone who has voted in Canada will recognize the setup of the poll. There are two people seated at a table. There are a couple of chairs nearby for the scrutineers. On the table is a ballot box and some papers featuring the names and addresses of those are can vote at this poll. When people come to vote they are directed to which table they should vote at. They show one of us their identification. The Deputy Returning Officer hands the voter a ballot and I cross their name off the list.
The actual E-Day I worked was pretty slow. It was held around the time of a long weekend in August when most of the students are out of town and many people have vacation plans. Never-the-less there are 23 days of early voting so I see no reason why people can’t find the time to stop in and vote in the previous three weeks.
When I was a scrutineer one of my co-workers grumbled that it seemed rude that a poll worker was eating at his table. This is actual unavoidable. In order for the voter to cast a ballot both the Deputy Returning Officer and the Poll Clerk must be present. If someone takes a break for lunch voting has to stop.
Overall I came away with the realization that voting in Ontario is easy. There were ocassionally people who showed up with a piece of ID in a married name when the voters list shows their unmarried name, but this is easily corrected by filling out a form. There were rarely lines longer than 3 people, and most people were in and everyone was in and out in less then 10 minutes.
This is why I say I do not understand why people do not vote in Canada. Its easy, with very little hassle. The identification requirements are not onerous, and the legal framework we live under is created and changed by the people we elect.
I recognize that this is not the case everywhere. In some jurisdictions it take hours to vote. In some parts of the United States in the previous election there were reports of lines of up to 6 hours in undeserved polling locations.
In Canada we are a well documented people, thanks in part to our social programs. While not everyone has a drivers license, almost everyone has some form of photo identification, even if it is just a provincial health card, and every province except Quebec has created a photocard for non-drivers given for a token fee. In some areas of the United States many people lack the kind of identification documents required by the elections officials, which as far as I understand is probably an intentionally narrow list to prevent people from voting. According to a fascinating article by Shane Landrum there are many people in the United States who lack even a birth certificate because their birth was never properly registered.
All this is a topic for another post, comparing voting requirements in Canada to those in the United States. Never-the-less I understand why some people in the United States and other countries may choose not a vote, but I do not understand why some people do not vote in Canada.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the ceremony where my friend Josh became a Canadian Citizen. Having been born in Canada I never had to take the oath, and this was my first opportunity to witness it first hand. It occurred to me that reflections on the ceremony might make an interesting post.
The first thing occurring to me is the time and location of the ceremony itself. I have never been a morning person, and I suppose I shouldn’t hold it against Citizenship and Immigration Canada for making the ceremony take place at 9:30 am, but holding it this early I am sure leads to a lot of running around for everyone involved. Granted, on the plus side for anyone who has to take time off work to attend, this means the ceremony doesn’t cut into their work day too much.
The ceremony was held in a specially designed room at the CIC office on Exeter Road in London. I’m sure there must be a logical bureaucratic reason for why the office was put here in the first place, but in the real world this is a terrible location. The office is in the middle of nowhere, far away from any public transit, meaning anyone without a vehicle (such as someone who is only recently established in Canada) would have to arrange transport from a friend or pay for a cab. Originally the building was meant to be accessible to the public, but recent cutbacks in the public service mean the office is only open by appointment. There was a button to press to get the attention of someone inside, but there was a handwritten note on it asking that it not be pressed unless you were here to make a refugee claim. The location of this office serves to discourage anyone from coming to it.
As is my custom I arrived early and the office was not yet open, I ended up chatting with a pharmacist from the Philippines who was waiting to take part in the ceremony. Had this been the summer it wouldn’t have been so bad, but anyone who has experienced Canadian winter knows that extended periods of being outside at this time of year are unpleasant.
Eventually the doors were opened and more people began arriving. At this point we were advised that each participant was only permitted to have two guests inside the ceremony room, with anyone remaining seated if there was space. In the end there was plenty of space for everyone, but putting the ceremony in the middle of nowhere, away from public transit and capping the number of guests allowed in suggests this really isn’t the “public” ceremony that former CIC minister Jason Kenny promotes it as.
Instead of a citizenship judge, there has been a move towards having members of the Order of Canada perform the ceremony, and member of the Order administered the oath in this instance. Strangely he didn’t actually wear the insignia.
Despite its importance, the ceremony itself is surprisingly short. The oath administer came in with a staff member from CIC, surrounded by a couple of guys in Navy uniforms along with a couple of civilians who were there to represent local Members of Parliament who were in Ottawa and couldn’t attend. The administer was introduced and he gave a short speech. He asked everyone to rise and repeat the oath.
I affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
Josh created something that vaguely resembled a peace sign when he raised his hand. We all sang O Canada and after this all new Canadians are required to sign the oath, and a lineup begins to have your photo taken with nobles.
This seemed like the kind of occasion where gifts are given. I considered finding something with a Canadian flag on it, but I am not fond of given people stuff that will just become junk filling their homes, so I decided on something consumable. Maple syrup seemed to obvious so I ended up purchasing some Scotch whisky called “Glenlivet”, which apparently is pretty good according to my friends who know about these things. This was the day I learned, unfortunately, Josh is fond of any liquor but scotch.
Our mutual friend Tim went all out, creating a “Canadian Citizenship Starter Kit” out of an old box. This included a number of fun Canadian items like the obvious maple syrup, and some more eclectic stuff like Ketchup chips, a Celine Dion Christmas album, and a Molson Canadian tuque.
Overall it was an enjoyable thing to witness, but I would suggest some improvements. For one, this ceremony should really be public. Instead of holding it in a special room in a building out in the boonies, why not hold it in a more public space, like city hall, or a real courthouse, or the public library? I can just imagine the library signing people up for library cards at the same time they get their citizenship certificates. Many of the libraries have plenty of parking and at the very least are accessible by public transit.
Overall it was a nice thing to witness. Welcome to Canada Josh, we’re stuck with you now 🙂