THE MORE ONE EXAMINES IT, THE EASIER IT IS TO CONCLUDE that politics of the heavily partisan nature is quickly losing its appeal to the average citizen living in a community and just desiring a good place to live and opportunities for their children. Previously we let political parties formulate their policies on various parts of the political spectrum and then citizens could select their priorities and vote from there.
In many ways it all functioned well: communities were offered choices, parties drew on supporters, and politics involved rigorous debate that clarified the issues. What we have been witnessing in the past two decades is the breaking down of that model for two key reasons.
The first arises when people don’t really know what political candidates and their parties really stand for anymore. America is currently going through a crisis in this regard, where Republicans actually have more in common with Democrats than they do with the Tea Party that operates under the Republican banner. Democrats who supposedly believe in evidence-based policies, government help for the poor, and the protection of qualified bureaucracies, nevertheless undercut welfare programs and permitted the key financial culprits who instigated the greatest financial crisis since the Depression to walk away unscathed.
And what of Canada? Are parties that once occupied the left-centre-right wing of the political spectrum moving collectively to the right, or is everyone cramming into the middle in pursuit of votes? It’s not only difficult to know who the players are anymore, it involves great perplexity attempting to understand their teams. The pursuit of power has led to a great free-for-all that witnesses every party rushing whichever way the pollsters tell them are an abundant crop of voters. Practical ambition has taken the place of principled policy and voters are left in a daze trying to figure it all out.
Our communities quickly arrived at the point where they just gave up. Watching such antics, the average citizen concentrated on their immediate existence instead of their collective life because politics was no longer capable of drawing them together and empowering the communities in which they lived.
But that’s now beginning to change as citizens have begun the process of casting off partisan practices in favour of common goals. For our respective communities it couldn’t come a moment too soon. Political parties, by morphing into whatever it took to capture more voters, no longer hold much appeal. Worse still is the increasing practice of pulverizing other parties in order to secure supporters. To the average citizen, politics looks more like a Game of Thrones episode than a respectful appeal to the intellect of citizens.
The word partisan itself was first used in 1555 in Tuscany, Italy, where it referred to someone who was “part” of a group or sect. Ironically a second meaning emerged within a few years where the term was used for a weapon with a long shaft and broad blade. In 21st century Canada, both of those meanings have become synonymous and Canadians have had enough.
Which leaves communities with a problem: if our politics is based on a battle of “parts” that no longer practice respect or pursuit of common principles, then how can communities come together collectively under such a paradigm? The truth is that they can’t.
It is time for a new breed of politician, especially at the local level – the woman or man who respects their community when it collectively desires something different, and fights for that place. This kind of politics isn’t about left or right, but the way forward based on community will.
London, Ontario has now become a battleground for this new kind of politics. Our mayor has stepped down and a new interim replacement is to be selected. Some of those interested in the position have acted in ways that directly conflict with the ReThink London citizen engagement plan that saw thousands of citizens coming together to talk about the kind of community they wanted. Yet none of those individuals who oppose ReThink have the courage to just say, “You know what citizens, you’re wrong and I’m right. I’m smarter than you, so give me your vote.” Of course they can’t utter such words because it’s difficult to gain office by insulting the voter. Beware the charlatan.
I have spoken about the French writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, many times in these pages. One of his most poignant observations can be found in his brief phrase, written in the 1850s: “There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.” This is exactly the point to which most Canadians are arriving.
Democracy is predicated upon one principle above all others: the people hold the ultimate power. Right or wrong, they decide. It is time “principled” dealings with one another descends to citizens themselves. Overt partisanship has had its day and it’s now played out. Effective or not, it is now the time for citizens to learn the intricate machinations of politics and prove they are capable to living a collective life while honouring individual pursuits. E Pluribus Unum – out of the many, one.