Government of Canada Sign

On March 4, I accomplished my duty as a new Canadian citizen—I voted for the first time in Canada, in the provincial by-election in Ottawa West-Nepean.

I drove to the polling station slightly honoured I could vote. I know I’m weird.

I wasn’t on the voters’ list (probably because I became a citizen not long ago) but this was taken care of in a matter of minutes. I only had to show a piece of ID, a proof of my address and fill up a form. I was then given a ballot with the names of all four candidates for this election, as well as their political affiliations. I went behind the voting screen and marked in one of the circles to make my choice. In the ballot box… and done!

By comparison, voting in France is more ceremonious. First, you can’t miss upcoming elections—campaigns are national events and they can last months. Second, French people are really into politics and there is a strong emphasis on the fact that voting is both a civic right and a duty.

I received my carte d’électeur when I turned 18 and I couldn’t wait to use it. I got my first chance during the infamous presidential elections of April 21, 2002.

In France, elections are always held on a Sunday: nobody works so there is no excuse to skip the duty. Voting is quite ceremonious—first, the voter picks up the bulletins de vote at the entrance of the voting office. Each party (and there are over ten of them!) is represented by a voting paper. You must pick at least two to keep your ballot secret. Then, you enter an isolation booth and you put the appropriate bulletin in the envelope. You may not write anything on it, otherwise, it’s void. Three people attend the ballot box—one checks your ID and your voter registration card, another one opens the ballot box and the third one makes you sign the voter’s list and stamp your registration card. It is custom to say a loud “a voté” (“your ballot has been cast”) when you put your ballot in the box to show you have accomplished your civic duty.

There are many, many parties but only two really have a chance to get elected to major positions: the Union pour un movement populaire (right-wing) and the Socialist Party (left-wing). Presidential elections have two rounds—a first round and a runoff. People traditionally vote for the party they like best during the first round and everybody expects the second ballot to be between the two biggest parties. So you can vote for the Revolutionary Communist League (!) or any other minor party for the first ballot and then for a mainstream party in the runoff.

By law, voting offices close at 8 p.m. and no electoral publication and broadcasts can be made before that time. At 8 p.m. on the dot, the results are broadcast live on all major channels. As I said, it’s usually between the Socialist Party and the UMP, so no big deal.

Except this time, things didn’t go as planned.

Unexpectedly, the Socialist Party had been voted off. The runner-off was the infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen, a far-right-wing candidate. Le Pen had been in politics for 40 years but he rarely got more than 10%. His views on immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, and Europe, not to mention his Holocaust denial and his alleged use of torture during the Algerian war made him a sick choice for president.

At 8:05 p.m., France was in shock. Not just left-wing voters, everyone. Spontaneous street protests began in the night on April 21. I was there, along with over a million of French citizens who felt something had gone horribly wrong.

Between voting for a fascist (Le Pen) and voting for a president nobody really wanted anymore (Jacques Chirac), the choice was easy. Yet, it was a painful one. Chirac was involved in a corruption scandal, but Le Pen was accused of racism and antisemitism. And one of them was going to be President. Sick at heart, the Socialist Prime Minister at the time called all left-wing voters to vote for Chirac to defeat the fascist. “Vote for the Crook, not the Fascist,” was the motto. Eventually, during the second round of the election, Chirac defeated Le Pen by a landslide.

So yeah, Canadian politics are much less dramatic. There are no big far-left or far-right parties and people seem quite content, no matter who wins, as long as it’s fair. Nonetheless, the 2002 French Presidential election taught me something. Voting matters. Because otherwise, one day, there is always a chance to end up with the bad guy. It happened before in Europe and it could happen here. So I’ll keep on taking my civic duty and rights seriously.

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  1. Kim March 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Felicitations! I bet you feel Canadian now?!

    I voted from overseas for the last NZ election. They posted me the ballot forms and I just had to get a colleague witness me making the vote and signing the paper and then I sent them to the embassy. Simple! We have a paper and you choose your party to lead the country (we don’t choose the Prime Minister, but the leader of that party would become Prime Minister) and the person who you want to represent your region – normally the same as your party of choice. You have to tick two boxes, put it in the ballot box and its done with. I think they check your ID as you enter the building. It seems like such a non-event but we do stay up and watch TV that night seeing who will win! Last election (or the one before) it took almost a week before we found out because the vote was so close between the 2 major parties.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..Paris questions???? =-.

  2. Yogi March 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    It sounds like the French version is a lot more fun than either the Canadian or USA elections.

    Congratulations on your first vote in Canada.
    .-= Yogi´s last blog ..My World – Brady Theater – Tulsa =-.

  3. Beth March 8, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Congratulations on your first vote as a Canadian citizen!
    And you’re not weird at all feeling honoured to be able to vote. It is an honour and a privilege. I have never understood the apathy of those who do not take voting seriously – why there is such low voter turn-out.
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..P.S. Re: Previous Post =-.

  4. Soleil March 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    I wish Americans took politics more seriously. We’re so apathetic, and that’s how we end up with idiots like Bush for eight years. Congrats on voting in Canada for the first time!
    .-= Soleil´s last blog .. =-.

  5. khengsiong March 8, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Election is often voting for the best among the crooks. Same thing here in Malaysia!

    Congratulations for carrying your duty as a Canadian citizen…
    .-= khengsiong´s last blog ..Soliciting Tips for Irian Jaya =-.

  6. Crikette March 9, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Hello ZHU

    Just a correction , LE PEN is not just accued of being a facist, racist , extrem right person : THATS WHO HE IS and IS PROUD of it !!

    I’m going to cote this week end for the regional election in France, and even if I don’t have my elector card , as long as I’m registred on the lists and I have an ID paper, I’m fine to vote.

    Voting is one of our right in democracy that we have to us and be proud of it.

    Have a nice day.
    .-= Crikette´s last blog ..Fleurs australes =-.

  7. Gill March 9, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Congratulations on becoming a Canadian Citizen. I remember when I became one, and was at a friends swearing in last year. Things have changed a lot in the procedure since we were sworn in.

    I am pleased to hear that you will vote, as it is our duty to do it…..

    Gill in Canada, popped by via Expat Women
    .-= Gill´s last blog ..A recipe, another quilt block and other "stuff" =-.

  8. Cornflakegirl March 9, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Congrats to become a canadian citizen! Enjoy your voting!
    .-= Cornflakegirl´s last blog ..Martine Johanna =-.

  9. Seraphine March 9, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    you are absolutely correct, zhu. you have to vote, or you might get stuck with “the bad guy.” unfortunately, sometimes you still get stuck with the bad guy, but at least, hopefully, there is always another election and the opportunity to correct past mistakes.
    in california, it is very easy to vote. you don’t even have to go anywhere- most voters get their ballots in the mail. and and and and– we can write on the ballots without voiding them. we can write in the name of our favorite cartoon character, or even vote for ourselves.
    it’s nice to “waste” a vote when you feel neither candidate is worthy of being elected. and who knows, maybe one day “good guy” homer simpson will be actually be voted president.
    .-= Seraphine´s last blog ..In Memory of Coco =-.

  10. Sidney March 9, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    I am ashamed to admit…I hardly vote…
    I find it difficult to vote for politicians who never keep their promises… they just don’t deserve my vote 😮
    .-= Sidney´s last blog .. =-.

  11. Tulsa Gentleman March 10, 2010 at 2:02 am

    I am late reading and responding to your post but better late than never. I always vote be it national election or local school board. I think it is a duty and a privilege. It is also my license to bitch. If you don’t vote you can’t complain.
    .-= Tulsa Gentleman´s last blog ..Spring Has Come to Tulsa =-.

  12. Nisha March 10, 2010 at 4:30 am

    Congrats !
    .-= Nisha´s last blog ..The things I am carrying =-.

  13. London Caller March 10, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Did you know that I can also vote in UK?!
    It’s very strange!

    The UK allows other Commonwealth citizens to vote in Braitain.
    But I don’t think Malaysia is so generous to let other nationals to dictate our future.

    So if you’re Canadian, I guess you can also ruin UK politics! Ha ha…
    Actually, you don’t have to be one to do so because EU citizens can also vote in the UK.

    No wonder, UK politics is so fucking messed up!?!
    .-= London Caller´s last blog ..Arc de Triomphe / 巴黎凯旋门 / Gerbang Kemenangan / エトワール凱旋門 =-.

  14. Zhu March 10, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    @Kim – I had no idea Kiwis cared so much about politics — sounds like France! In North America, politics are seen as boring… although sometimes a bit entertaining, usually for the wrong reasons (cf. Clinton’s affair!).

    @Yogi – Politics are definitely more fun in France, but that’s mostly because people actually care a lot.

    @Beth – I couldn’t wait to vote. After all, when you are adopting a new country, you also want to change a few things, right?!

    @Soleil – I think North Americans care more about local politics than national politics. We get all the channels from Detroit in Ottawa and I notice local politics often make headlines, while national politics are not even mentioned!

    @Charles Dastodd – Thank you!

    @khengsiong – Ah, some politicians are more honest than others… or am I just being my naive self?

    @Crikette – You are right about Le Pen, I didn’t mean to understate. It just sounded more… proper to put it this way. But yeah, this guy is evil.

    @Gill – Thank you for visiting! I also took the oath of citizenship, last summer actually. The citizenship ceremony did change apparently. Anyway, I was glad I finally got a chance to vote!

    @Cornflakegirl – Thank you!

    @Seraphine – Really, you can vote by mail? Wow, I had never heard of that! Feng and I were joking this other day when we were at the voting office, we were wondering if there were drive-through voting offices in the USA 😆

    @Sidney – I can understand. I guess I try to believe in the system… after all, if we all stop voting, what legitimacy will the government have?

    @Tulsa Gentleman – License to bitch… I like that! You are a wise guy as usual 😉 It’s so true though. How can you complain if you don’t vote?

    @Nisha – Thank you!

    @London Caller – I had no idea I could vote in the UK both as a UE national and as a commonwealth citizen! I assume you still have to meet residency requirement, right? Otherwise it would be a bit weird. I mean, even I don’t vote in France anymore because I don’t know who is who…

  15. Tanya March 18, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Congrats on getting the right to vote in Canada! That’s very exciting. Personally, I love voting. Makes me feel proud to live in a society that organizes such an awesome event and that I have the right to participate in it and have my voice heard. Sounds cheesy, I know…but it’s true 🙂

  16. Zhu March 18, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    @Tanya – It may sound cheesy but I feel the same! Nothing wrong with that, right? 😉

  17. Priyank March 18, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Oh congratulations! Its a nice feeling to vote, I haven’t done it in a while now.
    .-= Priyank´s last blog ..Veliky Novgorod =-.

  18. Yasmine March 19, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I know how you feel, Zhu! Congratulation! I love to be informed about a social and political life in my new country and I love to vote. I’m with those who say: “If you don’t vote you have no right to complain.”
    .-= Yasmine´s last blog ..Beautifully Imperfect Life =-.

  19. melanirae April 21, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Such a cool feeling yeah? I just got my Swedish citizenship (i’m american) so I finally get a say!

    (cool blog btw! from a future prospective Canadian resident) 🙂


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