25 Canadian musicians tell us why they're voting this election
Jessie Reyez, Shad, Fred Penner, Darren Creech, Bif Naked, Rae Spoon and more on the issues that matter most
About 68 per cent of Canadians voted in the 2015 federal election, setting the highest turnout record since 1993 — both years marking elections where Canadians voted out a Conservative prime minister for a Liberal one.
This election cycle, there's a notable difference in voter makeup: 2019 marks the first time millennials will outnumber baby boomers, as everyone in the millennial age range will have turned 18. And while the millennial demographic was one key factor to the Liberal win last time, as well as an increase in voter turnout from First Nations communities, experts are skeptical as to whether the outcome will be similar this time around, given the last four years.
Despite claims of who "won" Oct. 7's federal party leaders' English-language debate, the reality is that this all comes down to every counted vote. So, with the Oct. 21 election day looming large, we asked musical artists of varying ages, backgrounds and genres why they're voting — and why they think everyone should.
Editor's note: all interviews have been edited for clarity and length. Artists answered a variation of three questions via phone or email: Why are you voting in this year's federal election? What issues matter to you most this election? Why should others vote?
"Voting is more than a right in Canada — it is a responsibility we all share. The decisions that are made by our elected officials affect every area of our lives. We may have only one vote each, but collectively our votes are our voices and can make a difference.
"I am finding it very difficult to pinpoint issues that are most important to me, because everything is a concern these days. Environmental, health-care and education issues are cause for worry. The disparity between wealth and poverty; the pressure that is evident as Canadians try to find economic balance. Housing costs are insane and affordable rental housing nearly impossible to find in practically every corner of the country. Many Aboriginal communities in Canada are still fighting for clean water and reasonably priced food, amongst many other critical issues these vulnerable communities face.
"So many political systems seem to hinge on greed and an abusive battle for power, without being mindful of every Canadian citizen's fundamental rights. We have all the resources we need to take care of each other, but we need a non-partisan political will to ensure a healthy, thriving future for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren — and all generations to come."
"Succumbing to voter apathy plays into the hands of those who stand to gain from a weakening of democracy. There's a myth that rebelling against the system by not voting is somehow an enlightened position — the 'no party works for me' argument. This is an easy way out. It's not rebellious, it's just lazy. It's like refusing to clean your room on the grounds that it will become untidy again in time. Before long, you've got cockroaches, but these cockroaches are human-sized and actively suppress your emotional and economical mobility."
"I'm a settler and I want to elect the party that is the most invested in supporting Indigenous rights. Supporting parties to work towards decolonization also means that you can contact them between elections as one of their voters and urge them to work even harder to do so."
"I vote because it is a right that I value. First Nations people were only granted the right to vote in 1960. Previous to that we could only vote if we renounced our status as Indigenous people. That's only 59 years ago. If I don't vote then there is no reason for political leaders to take what I value and wish for this land seriously.
"I want to see follow-through on promises made. I have been disappointed over and over again by the lack of meaningful reconciliation after having my hopes raised by empty words. The continuation of 'negotiation' which slows progress and leaves Indigenous people fighting for basic equality in so very many ways is frustrating at best. I want meaningful consultation where we are heard and respected. I want an end to fighting to keep Indigenous children in their own families and communities. I want immediate and real solutions to energy problems that mean an end to dangerous transportation of crude oil threatening our forests and waters. I want the ugly racism that surrounds immigration policy and the ignorance that is encouraged in society to end. I want all communities to have the same right to access clean drinking water. I want to see a shift in policy so that industry giants will no longer damage the land and waterways because the consequences will be too high for them to take risks.
"If we don't exercise our right to vote, we give away our chance to hold the government accountable so they have no reason to serve our needs and wants. I've met Indigenous people who choose not to vote. Regardless of how one may feel about the legitimacy of the authority that Canada holds over our lands and people, voting is one of several tools we can use to effect change, and exercising this 'right' doesn't preclude us from asserting our inherent rights in many other ways."
"I vote because it matters who's making decisions that affect our most vulnerable Canadian citizens. These politicians need to be reminded who their bosses are — you and me."
"Though we can't make our wishes known nearly as often as we might prefer, one of the places where we can make our wishes known is when we vote for who is going to represent us.
"Whether or not we're going to exist 10 years from now [is an issue that's important to me]. Whether or not we will be called back as a result of our own ignorance and lack of understanding that this planet birthed us ... we have messed it up to the point where she can't necessarily continue to support us. And that sits squarely with us. That's our collective karma of the individuals who choose to be born on this planet that we all share that ... but at least when we go to the polls, we can say, this is who I believe represents where I want us to go, as best as we can get there."
"I vote because not doing so produces (even) worse governance and incentives for our elected leaders. I vote to protect our cultural institutions, our education system, and to preserve our national status as a leader on important global issues, such as freedom of the press, climate change, human rights and immigration."
Geraldine Hollett: "I think we vote because it's important to vote for a group of people who see that the arts is one of the wisest investments there is. And if a government isn't interested in equal rights for all and interested in making our world a healthier place in terms of mental health and our ever warming climate, then we have to make sure to keep them out."
Phil Churchill: "I've often said that there is still a fundamental misunderstanding in some sections of society at large as to the benefit of art. This is something that I'm OK with if the desire to understand is present. We should not go to war with everyone who does not immediately see our point of view, rather we should acknowledge that a changed mind can host a more powerful and stalwart ally than one simply born into an ideology. I vote to put into positions of power those who can frame arguments to open eyes and awaken new agents of education who want to teach even those who don't want to learn."
"I see voting as a form of harm reduction. I want to be thinking of how to support and protect the most marginalized among us, and voting is one important part of that, in addition to daily activism and work. As a settler on this land, centring Indigenous issues is important to me. I strive to be conscious of those treaty relationships and the many injustices and dangers that Indigenous communities continue to face. As a member of the Queer community, I'm aware of the need for access to extended health care and support from leadership. As an artist, more robust funding for artistic projects and addressing the dire need for affordable long-term housing are prominent in my mind.
"The electoral system often feels like it doesn't fully represent my own beliefs, but because I see it as a way of reducing harm against marginalized communities, I think it's important to take a few minutes out of a day to vote for who I believe will best protect and support those communities."
"You can't complain about the way things are if you don't vote. I vote because the right to vote is a very precious thing that many people have fought for and continue to fight for today. I don't take it for granted."
"I'm voting in this year's federal election in hopes that the Canadian government will never again come up with excuses as to why some people living here have clean drinking water, and others don't, and why we can't change that immediately."
"Voting is one of the few chances we get to have our opinions actually heard. We can make our posts on social media, or join groups that share our ideas, but I doubt any of that reaches the powers that be like the results of an election.
"Basically, [the issue that matters most to me is] how we treat Canadians. Those who were here first, those here now and those coming into the country. From how our country's Indigenous people have been treated in the past and are treated now, to the rights of every Canadian regardless of race, creed and sexual orientation. We need to focus on improving our country socially and environmentally.
"[People should vote] because doing nothing changes nothing. We need to take part in the decisions that affect us all."
Snotty Nose Rez Kids
"My parents were civil rights activists and I have always believed we can disrupt and resist most effectively through voter participation. The joy of non-violent activism. Everything is political in this world, therefore we must vote.
"I think I probably have many of the same hopes and dreams that so many Canadians have for the coming election, with issues that I'm deeply interested in such as stronger women's rights, food security and housing, refugee protections and health care and relationships with Indigenous communities.
"People should vote in this year's election because when we vote we reclaim our voice! We owe it to our communities to vote. It is our responsibility and we must refrain from apathy, which is no solution at all! Voting is a privilege in this world and we must never squander our freedom to do it. Voting is our opportunity to effect real change."
"I always vote because I think it's important. I don't think it's just because I've studied history and because I know that not even women, people in general didn't always get to vote … you have to be counted. People fought for this.
"Social welfare is so important. The health care system, particularly in our province, but other provinces I've lived in as well have so many issues ... those are things that happened because of government policy. The environment's a big one for me as well. It's such a no-brainer at this point. And just general human rights, like women should have the right to safe abortion, kids should not be hungry, queer and trans people should be recognized and treated equally, you know?
"I think it's also just a question of protecting what we have and making sure we don't reverse course where there's been progress. The Harper government was a really dark time for our country, I think. And especially now where there's so many right-wing governments coming into power, and we're in this time where people are feeling disenfranchised, and people are feeling like they're not being heard and so they're voting for radical things. And while sometimes on either side of the centre we feel like we're completely at odds, the reality is that everybody really just wants to have enough."
"I believe election day is an opportunity to uplift marginalized voices, increase the quality of life for all people and to take action against climate change. It's time that our government reflect the lives of all Canadians. I vote for the rights and lives of Indigenous, queer and transgender people, for women, immigrants and people of colour. For the homeless, poor and differently abled and for the preservation of this incredible land."
Sarah Pagé (formerly of the Barr Brothers)
"I think voting is not just a privilege but a mandatory minimum for all citizens participating in a democratic society. Authoritarian governments seem to be back in style across the globe and the first step to undermining any democracy is apathy by its citizens. Even though we may sometimes feel discouraged by government corruption or lack of representation on matters that we consider important, refusing to exert our right to a voice in 2019 is not an option."
"It is important to have a government that is in it for all of us. I watched our present leader lie to our country in front of Gord Downie on national television. Let's not forget that. He let the Indigenous population down and with that dragged the potential of our country down with it. To have a leader that governs with love is our only hope .
"I get to vote for an inspiring and genuine leader, Jagmeet Singh. Different from all the same politicians we have seen. Fresh, real. He's proven time and time again that he cares about Canadians. A leader who leads with the love in his heart."
"I'm voting in the federal election because I love Canada and I'm proud to be here. To live in a country where I can be civically engaged in a fairly just process should not be taken for granted.
"The issues that matter to me most are the investments in the future. I look at platforms that have youth action plans, and proposals for education, green tech and sustainability. Housing is a big one right now, as fewer people than ever see themselves as homeowners. NDP is currently the only party with proposed plans for housing, so I'm hoping it's more of a topic in the debates.
"We can't underestimate how much of an impact the government has on our everyday lives. If you care about how the country is run, voting is the primary action to show that. James Baldwin said, 'I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.' Although, we don't need everyone to be a staunch critic of the government, we need every citizen to be engaged and aware of the current state of affairs."
"Voting is a privilege we cannot take for granted, and no amount of cynicism about the faults of the system or of candidates should stop us from participating. We are never offered perfect choices. Nor are we ever given perfect information. But we need to invest ourselves in the urgency of the issues at hand. We all bear responsibility for our future."
Steve Sladkowski (Pup)
"I only vote in elections where I feel my vote will make a difference. If one party is overwhelmingly leading in pre-polls and I want to vote for the minority party, I usually don't vote. I understand that some feel 'one vote can make a difference.' Ultimately, one vote can make a difference but not as much as a crowd, a community or neighbourhood. MPs are the ones closest to the community. I vote because I care which MP is running my riding, not necessarily the prime minister."
"I always vote. My father was asked by John Diefenbaker twice to run for the Progressive Conservatives for the Rosetown-Biggar (Saskatchewan) riding in the 1950s. He declined, saying he didn't want to live in Ottawa! My father's sense of civic duty was strong; he was chair of several boards. My sister and I both follow his example and volunteer, sit on several boards, and lobby for social change. Like both my parents, I vote for different parties depending on principles and policies.
"In general, I am a fan of minority governments. I remember both Liberal and Conservative federal administrations with large majorities cutting the CBC, treating the Mother Corps as though it were the official opposition. Canadians need — desperately need — non-for-profit journalism and reporting. We also need a forum to learn about other Canadians.
"There are so many [issues that matter to me]. I am so pleased by the increased funding to the Canada Council and the non-gender specific passports instituted by the current Trudeau government, but disappointed by so much, including the ongoing muddle and horror of the federal government's relationship to Aboriginal people.
- Clean drinking water on 56 (!) reserves. Yeesh, who and where are we? Canada with its abundance of fresh water? There is a current promise of clean water by 2021. Can we trust the feds to get this right?
- Prison reform. There is so much wrong here, 'reforms' by the Harper government that need to be addressed. Prisons are unsafe for 'weaker' prisoners, and this needs to be compassionately addressed.
- The F-35/current fighter jet situation and the billions of wasted dollars. What is going on?
- Federally funded science and research: too many two-year goals, discouraging visionary research.
- And the arts! I miss the CBC which gave me a sense of Canada and the world when I was growing up. I miss the regular recordings of concerts, The Arts Report and music commissioning. I miss the CBC Radio Orchestra. In 1967 every Canadian city of a certain size was given a theatre — how many cities have a centennial theatre? These were federal government initiatives. It would be nice to address this again. Victoria and Vancouver need better theatres. I look at each party and its arts policies and visions. I have personally lobbied several politicians over the years, sometimes successfully. I am comforted by politicians I know to be art lovers. How many have I seen at art events in a non-ceremonial capacity? Bob Rae, Mitchell Sharpe, Dave Barrett — the list is not long.
- LGBTQ rights.
- In this election, alas, gun control."