Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Death Knell of Democracy?

Another abstract post today, as it's a topic that's been weighing on me. Though, we do have one semi-related source.

SOURCE: CTV News: Don't Force Election in Wake of Japanese Quake: Harper

I've noticed a rather disturbing trend in Canadian politics, not just during the Stephen Harper years (though the minority parliament situation has heightened discussion about it), and that is the average Canadian's feelings towards elections.

In one form or another, the word election has become a dirty word. Now, I think some of you are wondering how I can back this up. Well, let's turn to a list of adjectives that should hopefully illustrate my point:

An election is...

"Opportunistic"
"Unnecessary"
"Irrelevant"
"Costly"/"Waste of money"


The list could continue, but let's focus on those four for a moment, shall we?

Perhaps the first two have grown to prominence under the Harper Conservative years, given their use as buzz words for Conservative caucus members to use when talking to the press and (on the rare occasions when they actually do talk) to their constituents.

As such, the Conservatives are hoping to paint in the mind of Canadians that the current election that looms ahead of us is one that is not in Canada's best interest.

Yet, this argument would be more tangible and believable, if the Conservatives hadn't launched their own 'unnecessary' and 'opportunistic' election in 2008, when poll numbers suggested they had a chance at grasping the golden ring of a majority. This was done, in spite of, the Conservatives passing a fixed election date law.

So, to see a Conservative talk about 'unnecessary' and 'opportunistic' election, is a bit like the phonebook calling the newspaper obsolete.

But, you know what, these buzzwords have worked. Canadians seem to remain apathetic about elections, as our low voter turn out shows, and furthermore Canadians actually seem to be leaning towards the Harper Conservatives not out of ideology or conviction in their governance, but because as it stands they could form a majority government and end this election cycle for at least five years.

The Liberals can't form a majority, maybe a minority, and as much as it pains me to say the NDP is even further off in public support. As such, those non-voting electorally pained Canadians who want this cycle to come to an end are seriously considering voting Conservative just to avoid having to vote for five more years.

I ask you, is that anyway for a democracy to be run?

But of course, much as it always does, it gets worse.

On top of Canadians believing the idea that an election is 'unnecessary' and 'opportunistic', they are also buying into the idea that they are 'costly/waste of money'. According to Election's Canada data (found here) the 2008 Federal Election cost Canadians $230.3 million dollars, and $288.2 million after the reimbursement of political parties and candidates.

Now, when this is taken with the stance given by the Conservatives now, keep in mind that this is a $288.2 million total which could have been avoided by following their election dates law. After 2006, the next election was scheduled to occur on October 19th, 2009. Yet the Harper Conservatives jumped the gun and called an election early.

As such, Canadians went to the polls a year early in 2008. As such, the next 'scheduled' election should be for or around October 19th, 2012. Yet, Canadians are likely to head to the polls a year early again.

So, why is it not 'opportunistic' or 'unnecessary' when the Conservatives did it in 2008, but now it is?

I fear I'm treading too far from the topic I wanted to discuss in this post, so I shall attempt to fix that.

The point I am getting at is that Canadians are starting to buy into the buzzwords created by political party spin doctors, and as such our democratic institution is being undermined. The other problems rests in the other term I used, 'irrelevant'.

Increasingly, Canadians are starting to view the political parties as more or less the same. People look at the political parties and lump them into another set of adjectives, which surprisingly match a great deal of the adjectives for elections, and that helps breed further apathy among voters.

Look at Barack Obama.

In 2009, American politics was hitting a low point and there was a lot of anger amongst voters directed towards the administration and the political machine. Obama rose to prominence in this atmosphere for his ability to inspire audiences and voters. Obama won the election due to being able to organize grassroots organizations and younger voters to come to the polls and to surge support for the Democrats.

What I'm saying is that Canadians lack politicians who inspire.

Rather, our political system is self-cannibalizing in that it supports the problems that many Canadians see in the system. People believe that the parties are mostly the same, because in some ways they are.

The Liberals and the Conservatives are the worst offenders in this way, in that they often take the route of populism and 'rushing towards the centre' during election campaigns to lure voters to their parties. Yet, once elected, populism and ruling from the centre are often tossed aside...At least until the next election approaches.

As such, political parties (thanks mainly to the Liberals and Conservatives) are given a bad reputation; the idea that they will say one thing, then do another, comes from these two political organizations.

Yet, despite their faults, Canadians for one reason or another still resist the alternatives in our system. Canada is, thankfully, not a two party system; yet Canadians treat it as if it were. If I had a nickle for every time I've seen a person justify voting Liberal because they weren't the Conservatives, or vice-versa, I'd never have to work a day in my life.

Canadians need to understand that we make our own political system. By rewarding parties who say one thing then do another, we do not change the system. By switching out one party for another, when the differences between them are minuscule, Canada is not getting better or moving forward.

As much as I can talk about this subject, Canada has had a person who could talk about it better than I ever could. So, I'll leave that topic be and let the man himself tell you about it: Tommy Douglas on Mouseland

Which brings me to the 'meat-and-potatoes' portion of this post. As it stands, the two major political parties like this mindset in Canadian politics and don't want to do anything to change it. As such, it's up to us to do something about it.

For years, the Liberals have had the swagger in their walk from the fact that they think they are the only centre-left option for Canadians that has a chance of forming government. And the Conservatives now have that swagger by being the only right-wing (and during election time, centre-right) option for Canadians.

While it's true for the Conservatives, it's not true for the Liberals.

Canadians have a wider berth of choice than just Liberal/Conservative, Harper/Ignatieff; yet we act like we don't.

We complain about the political culture, the culture of corruption and deceit that exists in Ottawa, and yet we still come to the same solution: We can either vote in a Conservative or a Liberal Government.

The fact of the matter is, Canadians have more choice than that. And we need to start exercising it if we ever want to see real change take route in Canada.

In closing, I suppose I have swayed quite a bit off topic...But I feel that I need to say this:

The cornerstone of democracy is the right of the electorate to have their voices heard and to demonstrate those choices through the expression they have in an election. As such, an election is: The voice of the people.

An election is never 'unnecessary'. An election is never 'a waste of money'. It can indeed be opportunistic (as the Liberals and Conservatives [including the Progressive Conservatives]) have proven throughout the years. But it is NEVER a waste of time, money, or effort.

Any Member of Parliament who talks about an election as if it is a bad thing, regardless of political stripe, is doing a disservice to the institution they serve and the people they serve; and as such, any Member of Parliament who speaks ill of elections, is speaking ill of the people. As such, I think we need to examine whether or not that person deserves to represent anyone when they have such contempt for the process that gives them their forum in the first place.

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