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EDITORIAL: Scrutiny can do wonders

Alarm bells sounded a decade ago already as vote turnout dipped to the 60 per cent range.

So what can we say when it bottoms out at 54 per cent, as in Tuesday’s Nova Scotia election? Even with that we have no assurances it won’t erode further.

The disappointing turnout has people worried about the democratic process and casting about for possible solutions.

One hopeful side-note to all this was the report of a mock vote held at schools in Pictou County and across the province leading up to the election. Accompanying that exercise was an educational component teaching young people about the process.

That approach is definitely on the right track to get youth interested and aware of how vital democratic participation is.

All we can hope is that their zeal continues through life – but whether they can do something to inspire their parents is another story. Somewhere along the line for too many adults the shine wears off, too many just don’t bother.

The numbers had re-elected Premier Stephen McNeil saying it’s time to take a “hard look” at the issue.

Whatever that means. It’s hard to say what can be done to spur interest. The idea of mandatory voting – in place in some countries – has been tossed around. But it’s hard to see what that accomplishes, how being forced to vote reconciles with empowerment, which is what democratic participation is all about.

We can only speculate on the myriad of reasons – but they certainly go beyond apathy, or blissful contentment with the way things are, or lack of information.

One thing that came up in this election was the number of promises not kept by McNeil and the Liberals. Some take campaign promises with a grain of salt, some don’t. Again, this time around, the promises were there, from all three main leaders. But until we go through a term of government we aren’t certain how achievable or realistic they are. It would be naïve to simply opt for the opposition’s platform with the blind faith it will somehow pan out.

There has to be a better way of tracking governing progress, outside of just leaving it to the partisan whining and moaning of opposition.

Individuals, communities, municipalities, business, organizations – they all have a vested interest in many of the goals government is aiming for.

We need reviews that go beyond governments reviewing themselves in budgets or fiscal updates. We could benefit from established panels of citizens, community by community, who can publicize loudly every half year or so, here’s what you said you’re going to do, where are we on that?

Step-by-step democracy watch in other words – government evaluation shouldn’t be limited to a once-every-four-years exercise. See if constant public scrutiny can prod better performance – and whether better performance from government yields higher interest in voting and the process in general.

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