CANADIANS EXPLAIN THEIR REASONS FOR SAYING YES OR NO
JOHN DeMONT,BARRY CAME,PAUL KAIHLA,2 more...November21992
THE VOTERS SPEAK
CANADIANS EXPLAIN THEIR REASONS FOR SAYING YES OR NO
As Canadians went to the polls to pass judgment on the Charlottetown accord, Maclean’s correspondents interviewed voters at jive key polling stations across the country to gauge their mood—and their reasons for voting Yes or No. The report begins as dawn broke over Halifax and ends at sundown in Vancouver-.
Referendum day dawned gloomy and wet in Nova Scotia and, only moments before the polls opened in the riding of Halifax, cars still drove
through the city’s semi-darkness with their lights on. The mood of a half dozen people waiting in the rain outside a south-end polling station, a kindergarten and day-care centre, seemed as grim as the weather. At the front of the line stood Robert Bohler, 22, a student at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. “It is going to be No,” Bohler said prophetically.
* ‘The deal seems to take away powers
from the federal government.” Behind him, Second World War veteran Charles Prince, 69, said that he had reached the same decision—but for different reasons. Said Prince: “If enough No votes come in, the government will have to call an election and we will be rid of them.”
At the end of the line, as if to distance herself from the naysayers,
Tanya Simms, 22, a business student at Dalhousie University, said that she had little choice but to vote Yes. “Saying No will simply frighten foreign investors,” she added. At 9 a.m. AST, the doors opened and Simms, Prince and Bohler went in to mark their ballots. Others soon followed, reflecting the neighborhood’s diverse mix of students, pensioners and young professionals. Dr. Michael Myles, 30, an ophthalmologist bicycling to work, entered the polling station, moisture glistening on his nylon outerwear. He had decided to vote Yes, he said. “I put my faith in the elected officials who know far more about it than I do,”
Many pensioners voiced concerns that a No vote would threaten the country’s future—and endanger thenold age benefits. But others expressed disgust with the accord. “I would say No a thousand times,” declared Robert Delaney, 73, a retired businessman who moved to Halifax two years ago from Quebec. With his wife pulling
at his sleeve, Delaney adjusted his hat and walked off into the chilly morning rain that continued to fall on the leaf-littered streets.
In Montreal, despite his infirmity, John Onyshkewych, 91, was determined to participate in the referendum. “I’ve been in this country for 65 years and I’ve never missed a chance to vote since the day I first became eligible,” said the retired, Ukrainian-born construction worker. As his daughter and son-in-law manoeuvred his wheelchair out of the polling station in the east-end riding of Rosemont, Onyshkewych added that he voted Yes “because I want to help bring some peace to this country that has been so good to me.” On the other side of the political divide, Denis Labelle, 46, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, voted No. “It is one more step in the direction of Quebec sovereignty,” he said.
Few of the voters leaving the polling station in the Ecole Louis Hébert, a yellow brick primary school within sight of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, were that categorical. Rosemont, an economically depressed, workingclass riding, is predominantly francophone but sprinkled with Ukrainian, Italian and other ethnic enclaves. In Quebec’s 1980 sovereignty-association referendum, the Rosemont electorate voted solidly for Canadian federalism. Faced with voting on the Charlottetown accord, however, many voters expressed uncertainty. A 22-year-old francophone music student who identified himself only as Marc said that he voted Yes, but declared: “I could just as easily have voted No.”
Corrine Clemente, 34, who described herself as a “recently unemployed articling accountant,” said that she voted No “because I want the government to start dealing with
more important issues like the economy.” Her father, retired waiter Francesco Clemente, 67, said that he voted Yes—for precisely the same reason. “I want to stop this whole constitutional debate so we can get on with improving our working conditions,” he added. Others expressed disgust with the referendum. Laurent Marchand, 46, for one, declined to say how he voted. But the process, he said, “was a waste of time.”
A referendum-day distraction in Toronto, and in much of the rest of the country via television, drew massive crowds to a downtown parade and a rally in Sky Dome stadium to celebrate the World Series baseball triumph of the Toronto Blue Jays. The mood was more sombre outside a polling station in General Crerar Elementary School in the suburban riding of Scarborough Centre, 10 km to the east. As they arrived to register their votes, some senior citizens shied away from reporters. But the voters also included some of the young, transient residents who have helped to make Scarborough Centre a notoriously unpredictable riding. Among them was Manon, 24, an exotic dancer who stopped in to vote No a few hours before her evening shift at a local strip bar. “The politicians made all these proposals,” added the francophone native of Montreal, “and then said we will figure out what they mean in five years.”
Many voters seemed to share the negative assessment of the accord. Said Joe Sisson, 31, a grounds keeper for the North York Board of Education: “I decided I better get out and vote against it because you never know what the country was going to get stuck with.” Steven Campbell, 20, a Seneca College computer programming student, said that he voted No in part because of his dislike of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. But Campbell, the son of a farm supply retailer in Owen Sound, Ont., added that he was ultimately swayed by his
father’s opposition to the deal. “He was going on the basis of what Pierre Trudeau said—that Quebec would want more no matter what deal they had,” Campbell said.
Some voters seemed to be expressing anger over an even wider range of issues. Christine Mavraidis, 32, a mother of four, said that she voted No—then switched the conversation to complaints about Ontario’s NDP government. Even those who said that they were voting Yes showed little enthusiasm. Said voter Elsie Curry: “I held my nose and voted Yes.”
In Edson, Alta., Gregor Dobbie expressed an attitude of uncertainty shared by many Canadian voters. He entered his polling station in the gymnasium of the Pine Grove Elementary School saying that he was still unsure of how to
vote. Staring at the ballot, the 44-year-old mobile park owner-operator finally made up his mind. “I voted Yes,” he said later. “In the end I thought it was best for Canada.” His decision was not an easy one, he added, because many of his friends supported the No side. But Dobbie said that he thought the Charlottetown accord’s Senate reform provisions were significant enough to warrant a Yes vote. And, he added: “I never believed Mulroney’s threats.
That is just politics.”
But many voters in Edson, 150 km west of
Edmonton in the heart of Constitutional Affairs Minister Joe Clark’s sprawling Yellowhead riding, said that the Prime Minister’s unpopularity figured strongly in their decision. “I don’t trust him,” welder William McGonigle, 55, said flatly after voting No. McGonigle’s sense of distrust extended to other politicians as well. “All they seem to think about is Ontario and Quebec,” he added. Other local residents echoed the same sentiments. “I started out No, and I ended No,” said Matthew Flickinger, 31, a gas plant operator and Reform Party of Canada member. Flickinger added: “The accord was too ambiguous. To have to trust politicians with it did not seem a good idea.” Still, admiration for Clark, who has represented Yellowhead for 13 years, clearly swung some voters to the Yes side. Said high school
teacher Georgina Jarvis: “I am not sure that [Reform leader] Preston Manning is after the good of Canada. A lot of people here respect Joe Clark and what he had done for this accord. In the end, listening to a lot of ignorant comments about French and immigration swayed me to the Yes side.”
The last pink flourishes of sunset glowed in British Columbia’s western sky as Brad Addison and Laurie Ann Fenlon emerged from the polling station in the basement of the West
Point Grey Presbyterian Church. The married couple smiled after casting their referendum ballots in the federal riding of Vancouver Centre, represented by Justice Minister Kim Campbell. Both are 36, both are lawyers—and both voted Yes. Said Fenlon: “I summarized the draft legal text and thought that there was really nothing in there that was objectionable.” Addison added: “When we read the legal text, we thought Quebec had compromised the most, and that the West had compromised the least.” Stephen Garvey, 27, offered a different reading of the text as he rested his bicycle against a maple tree near the church. “It is not fair to all Canadians,” said Garvey, a University of British Columbia philosophy and literature student. “The propaganda that went on was repulsive. When the No vote goes through, the politicians are going to be in for a lot of criticism.” High school teacher Bob Patrick, 43, agreed. “The politicians we have now are the worst group in history,” he said. “That’s another reason for me to vote against the accord.”
That distrust of politicians was by no means unanimous.
Said Sharon Weiler, 25, a University of British Columbia theology student: “I’m paying politicians to make decisions for me and I think they came up with a good compromise.” Her friend Rhonda Willms, 24, a medical student, agreed. But, she added: “It would have been nice if they had spent a little more money on informing us, instead of those Yes commercials.” For another two hours after sunset, until the polls closed at 8 p.m. PST, voters continued to enter the church to mark their ballots—even though the fate of the accord had already been decided thousands of miles to the east.
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