The right to vote

Voting in Canada never ceases to amaze me. You have to understand, I come from a country where the vote is obligatory between the ages of 18 and 70 and the system to vote is highly complicated and bureaucratic. It’s almost like they don’t want you to vote. You can only vote on the day of the election, at the place where you are registered as an elector. If you move, you have to transfer your “vote residency” to the place where you live otherwise you can’t vote. The catch is – this move needs to be done months, if not years in advance of election day.

I moved to Spain in April/2006. There were presidential elections in Brazil in October/2006. Before I even left Toronto, I went to the consulate to find out how could I vote in Spain. I was told I missed the deadline to change my electoral address. I think that was about a year before the election.

In Canada, I’m not obligated to vote. Because of that, not only candidates have to work harder to convince you to go out and vote for them but the actual voting system is much less complicated. There are advance polling stations in case you might be busy on election day and want to vote ahead of time. You can vote through the mail. And election officials go door-to-door handing in voting cards and ensuring you are on the voting list. I wasn’t. Actually, I was but they had me under my old address so they couldn’t give me my voting card. But there’s no fuss. You can either contact the election office designated for your area and get on the list up to a week before the election or you can simply show up at your polling station on election day with two pieces of ID and they put you on the list and you are allowed to vote.

That’s what happened to me yesterday. Even though my name had been crossed off the list, they were still able to rectify that and I was able to exercise my right to vote. Yes, because it is my right not my duty and as my right, it can’t be denied because of bureaucracy.

On another note – this will be the last post this week as I’m trying to get some work done on my thesis.

Universal health care

I’ve recently got into a discussion with my brother on the issue of universal health care. It’s a big debate and one which we may be far from agreeing on. It boiled down to two basic issues – freedom of choice and trust.

My brother doesn’t believe in the welfare state because he doesn’t think the state is better than its population and we shouldn’t depend on it. According to him, the state shouldn’t abandon education and health care but should focus on providing it to those who need it as opposed to those who want it. He was very alarmed when I mentioned there’s no private health care in Canada. He felt that the lack of alternative hurts his individual rights to choose the kind of health care he wants.

In theory, I have nothing against the co-existence of public & private education and health care. In practice, I don’t think it works. Take universal health care for instance. I think it only works when an influential segment of our population, the educated middle class, the opinion-makers, rely on the system and therefore demand a certain basic quality. If you have a private alternative, the minute the first glitch on the public system appears, this influential group moves on the private option, which is easier than demanding change on the public side. Soon all the ones left using the public system are only those who need it – those on the margins of society, who can often be ignored by the policy makers. The pressure to keep the system working well disappears and soon only those with money can receive quality care.

That, to me, limits my freedom of choice as an individual. If my choice of hospital or treatment is limited by the amount of money I have in the bank or the kinds of benefits I get from my employer, it hurts my individual rights much more than not having the choice to pay for private health care. Full individual freedom is illusory. Our freedom ends when it interferes with the freedom of our neighbour. We all have the right to quality health care irrespective of our previous health history, job, class, or financial conditions. If to have that I need to wait a bit more for a non-urgent test because someone else who has a life-threatening condition needs to be taken care of first, I’m happy to oblige. I don’t want to be able to do whatever medical test I want the next day just because I have enough money to pay a private clinic when there are other people who are denied that choice. That, to me, is no freedom.

Update: Interesting article debunking some commonly-held myths about the Canadian healthcare system

Part 2 of article here.