Interesting times and electoral change

Posted on October 17, 2008
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            Being out of the media loop now, I did not anticipate the seachange in the local riding. I heard rumblings of Tilly O’Neill-Gordon’s campaign going well but, then, one always hears enthusiastic stories from all sides.

            Tilly had been an extremely effective back-room force for years. When her then husband, Jim Gordon, was the provincial PC nominee, and subsequently one-term MLA, for Miramichi Bay, excellent letters used to come to the paper over his signature.

            Newspaper staff members were confident that Tilly wrote those letters. Usually a constituency president or nominee of the party not locally elected does not have a high profile. Each spring, Jim would send a letter to the paper announcing the list of local roads to be paved or chip sealed that construction season.

            None of the other elected members or nominees did that. We always thought it was entirely Tilly’s doing.

One prudent Canadian

            It seems to me that the Canadian electorate often does collectively what one prudent Canadian might do individually.

            If it were entirely up to one Canadian to create the government, he or she might well divide it up much the same as we all did.

            He might decide to give Stephen Harper’s Conservatives the lead role but keep them on the minority leash. That keeps the kooky extreme quiet and allows the opposition to block any seriously reactionary legislation. The government is still on probation. It can be dismissed any time.

            He might decide to send the Liberals a signal that Stephane Dion simply did not establish a rapport with the Canadian public and probably never will. He is a fighter but he is down for about an eight count. It will be astonishing if he can get to his feet and his corner lets him come out for another round.

            The prudent Canadian might decide to give each of the five parties some, but not significantly more. That tells them that none of them have inspired him (us) very much. None of the parties got what they wanted in this election. Apparently none of them offered us enough inspiration to cause us to coalesce into a majority. One prudent Canadian might easily have decided that all by himself.

            The avid supporters of any of the parties will not see that, of course. They will think a prudent Canadian would have given their party all the seats. Perhaps instead of prudent, I should have said uncommitted or middle-of-the-road Canadian. Every party has extremists the rest of us would not consider prudent. We all consider ourselves moderate, of course.

Grateful

            Listening, Wednesday morning, to the pundits discussing what happened and what will happen, I was suddenly overcome with an intense feeling of gratitude. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend so perhaps it is partly afterglow.

            It overwhelmed me that we just had a vigourously contested election and none of the parties got what they wanted and everyone is sitting around calmly discussing it. There is no blood in the street and no violent retaliation or oppostion.

            This warm feeling was quickly followed by dismay at the idea that over 40% of us don’t value, believe in, or care enough about our precious democracy to bother to become informed and vote.

            We tend to take what we have for granted. We should be more alert to how rare and precious our democracy is. We should all be working to protect, preserve and enhance it.

            Oh, and when people complain that we spent $350,000,000 on an election which didn’t change much, consider alternatives. How about rioting and the occasional civil war that costs the lives of thousands of citizens? I prefer elections.

Not invested

            I think there are a couple of obvious reasons fewer people vote.

            One is that fewer younger people are involved. They don’t depend upon or interact as much with government as families used to. The federal employees do not all lose their jobs when government changes. Many government positions are now more controlled by the bureaucracy than by politicians. Incidentally, I don’t believe there is much less patronage in that system than in politics.

            In any case, people do not see themselves as having as much of a personal stake in politics as they once did.

            In addition, politics has been centralized as much as retailing or any other enterprise. The party bosses control the message from the top and want no input or off-message comments by local candidates or supporters.

            People are neither stupid, nor happy worker ants. They don’t want to work for a campaign that is entirely directed from high above.

            Education and health are more and more centralized with much less local involvement and interest. Why would centralized politics lead to any different result?

            People also get cynical and disengaged when they know they are being spun and disrespected. They know the parties are all telling them what last night’s polls revealed we want to hear. They know that what parties pledge in a campaign and what they will actually do are not necessarily closely related.

            If they were, free trade and the GST would have been repealed during the first Chretien majority. This most recent election would not have been held until next year.

            Parties seem to all adhere to the maxim that you should never tell a lie unless it is absolutely convenient.

            I suspect too that, the farther away we get from the great depression and the world wars, the farther we get from the idea of looking out for each other and hanging together. Political parties, service clubs, and most churches are all suffering declining numbers and involvement. Community as we have known it, is changing and disappearing.

            It is worrisome. The expression “Use it or lose it” applies as much to democracy as it does to anything.

Thankful

            On the subject of being thankful, let us be thankful our election campaigns are, for the most part, over in five weeks. True, the Conservatives began campaigning against Stephane Dion as soon as he became leader but it was not high gear.

            I have American friends who are not sure they will make it to the finish line of their marathon campaign which has been building in intensity for about three years. Talk about campaign fatigue!

                                                                        DAC

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