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Opinion: Vote 1, democracy sausage for Canada

An Australian institution is worth appropriating for Canadian electoral life
Democracy sausage is a well-respected tradition in Australia. Every few years, Australians get together for a barbecue, and maybe vote as well. (Image courtesy of iStock)

When I was little I remember my mother taking me along to vote at the local church in suburban Melbourne, Australia.

There were red and blue posters everywhere, and the smell of the nearby barbecue was overwhelming. I was very confused as to why we were at a church on a Saturday for a barbecue.

Being six at the time, I wasn’t that interested in what my mother was doing there (voting for someone that lost), but I did get to partake in the barbecue, and it was this experience which sold me on the famous Australian ‘democracy sausage’ forever.

They’re not just a perk to soften up voters dragged out of bed on a Saturday morning – democracy sausages (usually just overcooked beef sausages) are an institution in and of themselves, and a staple of every respectable polling booth in Australia.

Line up to vote, and then line up for a ‘democracy sausage’. Chances are, the line at the barbecue is longer.

Waiting in a line that files past a few folding tables and a community-event appropriate barbecue, you hand over a dollar (or two if you want anything fancy, like onion), and you’re handed a single piece of white bread on a napkin (serviette, in Australia). Onto that single piece of bread is placed a beef sausage.

Maybe you’ll add some onion, or maybe a squirt of watery tomato sauce.

For many, it’s the most important decision they’ll make that day.

Does it sound delicious or what?

It’s simple and straight to the point: Everything politics isn’t.

There’s something magical about getting up early every three years on a Saturday morning to do your duty as a good citizen: To donate a few dollars to the local church, or sports club, or technical school creative arts interpretive dance troupe by buying a democracy sausage for 50 percent over market value, because you know the meat they’re cooking is from the bargain bin.

I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a handful of elections here in Canada, and I must say I am unimpressed.

The options are appalling. Such a disgrace to democracy. Where is the barbecue?

So I begin my campaign here: Introduce the democracy sausage to Canada. Help increase voter participation by setting up a barbecue at polling places on election day.

Turnout in Canada is insultingly low. Given the noise on social media, I’d expect Canadians to be so motivated they’d vote twice at every election they can.

Alas, numbers say otherwise. At the last federal election turnout was only 62.3 percent. In BC in 2020, turnout was 54.4 percent. In the last municipal election in this corner of BC, turnout in Fernie was 64.2 percent. In Sparwood, only 41.6 percent.

This needs to change, posthaste. If a barbecue can motivate a few more percentages of folks to go vote, a barbecue is what’s needed.

In the last Australian federal election, turnout was over 91 percent. Sure, registering to vote is compulsory, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say numbers aren’t high because it’s the law, but because everyone gets a democracy sausage.

Start a tradition Canada. For little six-year-old me, it meant a lot to have a weekend barbecue for seemingly no reason. So much so, that I’ve looked forward to every election since.

Even as the faces on the posters changed along with the locations of the polling booths – tall old red church, low-slung cream-brick school, disused shopfront – I think back to when I tagged along with my mother for the election where her guy lost, and when she spent a dollar to buy me a ‘democracy sausage’ so that I’d stop protesting.

For what it’s worth, it made me a committed voter.

-Scott Tibballs is editor of The Free Press, and a sucker for a good barbecue.

READ MORE: Column: Water, water, not quite everywhere
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