Viewpoints: History shows that every vote matters

February 28, 2017
Frank Bruseker

Democracy, politics and elections.

Some love them. Some hate them. But we all talk about them.

Some of us even jump into politics at a variety of levels, but for the majority of us, our involvement is limited to casting our ballot for the candidate of our choice.

Regardless of how you feel about them, politicians and their actions affect every one of us.

Some might argue that their vote doesn’t matter or that their vote will simply get lost and not make any difference. I disagree with that sentiment and want to tell you about voters who made a clear difference, in two different ridings, in two different elections, 84 years apart.

Many of you know that I have had a long involvement with the Alberta Teachers’ Association at both the provincial and the local levels. Some of you may recall that, prior to that involvement, I served two terms (1989 to 1997) as a Liberal MLA representing the constituency of Calgary-North West.

If you examine the results of the 1986 election, the Liberal candidate came in a distant third, garnering less than 1,300 votes. So it came as a great surprise to many on March 20, 1989, when I was elected with more than 7,400 votes. I drew some votes from both the incumbent MLA and the NDP, but what was more startling was the fact that 4,200 more people cast ballots in 1989 than in 1986. Apparently, many of those ballots came my way. What happened?

When the election was announced on Feb. 20, 1989, it began a 28-day marathon called the campaign period. We were not well prepared for an election; there was little money in the campaign coffers, no literature had been printed, and we did not have any campaign signs. What we did have was a willing crew of Liberal party faithful, teacher friends and colleagues who offered their time and shoe leather. We started travelling from door to door seeking support.

A typical conversation at many doors went like this: I introduced myself. I asked how they felt about the current government led by then premier Don Getty. If they expressed displeasure with the government, I then asked if I could count on their support on election day.

Often there was a pause followed by “Do you think you can win?” My standard answer was “Yes, if you’ll vote for me.”

Again, there was often a bit of a pause and then the comment “But I have just one vote and my one vote won’t matter.”

I anticipated this response and replied, “John Simpson would disagree and say that every vote counts.”

John Simpson? Who’s that?

Alberta became a province in 1905, and in that year held its first provincial general election. There were only 25 constituencies for the entire province. John Adrian Simpson was the Liberal candidate for the constituency of Innisfail. When the ballots were counted, John had won his seat by the slimmest of margins: 408 votes to 407. One, single vote.

When I told that story on the doorsteps of Calgary-NW constituents, people found that an interesting anecdote. I then followed with “That could be your vote!”

With that simple statement, the expression on people’s faces changed as they realized that they could have a personal impact on the outcome of that election. I repeated that tale thousands of times over the campaign period. In the end result, in Calgary-North West, voter turnout increased from 46 per cent in 1986 to 55 per cent in 1989.

The relative votes for the Liberal and Conservative candidates in those two elections changed from the Liberal candidate losing by almost 6,500 votes to a slim margin of victory of 432 votes. Why the big change in fewer than three years? I think it was that, for the first time in many elections, people believed that they could be key players in bringing about change.

Your vote is your voice. For many, it is the only way to express agreement or disagreement with what is happening. So when an election comes around — municipal, provincial, federal or ATA — be sure to express your views by casting your ballot and making your voice heard. Be sure to vote in the upcoming ATA elections for Provincial Executive Council. Your vote — every vote — is important.

Just ask John Simpson! ❚

Frank Bruseker is a former president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, former president of Calgary Public Local No. 38 and former MLA for Calgary-North West.