EVERYTHING THIS WEEKS SEEMS TO BE ABOUT the upcoming federal election, called much too early and perhaps needed far too late. It’ll all be about the party leaders. Which is not only too bad, but also misguided. It is inevitable that we make each election about the choices before us, but this time around it will be about the choosers: us.
It’s likely that the majority of Canadians sense the country isn’t doing well, but they’ve just lost belief in the hope that politics can turn things around. The polls say that as well, but we don’t require them to convince us. The ineffectiveness of today’s politics was revealed in a recent interview with Dr. Ben Carson, Republican candidate for the American presidency. When asked by the interviewer how he reacts to the observation that he carries no political experience, Carson’s response was prescient:
“If you look at the collective political experience of every body in Congress today it comes out to just under nine thousand years and where has that really gotten us. And in fact there are a number of people who have been in politics for decades and yet you never see them coming up with any solutions.”
That’s 9,000 years of political experience that has resulted in the most partisan and ineffective Congress in decades, perhaps ever. Put this way, no wonder citizens are quickly losing faith. That growing reality caused American author Richard Yates to note, “It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.” We react socially the same way we do when frustrated emotionally – get callous, wash our hands of it all, and, ultimately, lose our sense of optimism.
The problem with this trend is that we are still Canadians, and we have a history of being some of the most compassionate and empathetic people on earth. It wouldn’t take too much political leadership to unleash that social capital, but it just hasn’t shown up in recent years. And how have we handled that as Canadians? We have largely given up and gone about our personal business. Voting feels useless, and political promises? Well on the big issues that challenge us all, it is getting increasingly difficult to believe the ongoing political rhetoric.
There has been a dedicated attempt to tempt Canadians to put their ideals in the cupboard while the government hands them trinkets. Just in time for the election we are promised home renovation tax credits even though fewer Canadians can afford a home. We’re offered small breaks for our kids at the same time as post-secondary education becomes increasingly out of reach for them.
Just to be clear, this is not just about the Conservatives; opposition parties are guilty of failing to address our biggest challenges on a number of occasions. But the government is the government of the day, and that’s the big difference. The big obstacles confronting us are occurring on their watch and frequently created by their policies. They know this but are counting on the ability to buy you off just in time for the election. This isn’t about governing but about managing a boutique store.
For many Canadians this is what they desire: to be bribed for their vote. But for millions of others there are greater things on their mind than income splitting, especially as a growing number of their fellow citizens are descending into the grips of poverty. A few million dollars thrown into our park system doesn’t help them overcome this country’s dismal performance on climate change. The Canada’s Action Plan government commercials have done nothing to prepare us for a future that economists remind us will be increasingly without meaningful jobs. Getting a tax credit for some new kitchen cupboards just doesn’t match up to the challenge of growing homelessness in our nation’s cities. We know we need political collaboration to overcome such obstacles, but in the entire time the PM has been in power he never had a joint meeting with the premiers, not once. How will we adapt to a radically changing world if we can’t even plan a joint approach together? To paraphrase Ben Carson’s observation above: “Where has that gotten us?”
At some point Canadians will have to make a choice between apathy and empathy, and the political system in now so rigged that not to decide is to decide. Writing in his first novel, author Jay Asher, in speaking about bullying, wrote, “A lot of you cared, just not enough.”
This election will be about citizens and how we choose our future. If we remain apathetic, then we will continue to offered a small allowance by the government even as our bigger bills line up. But if we show up, demand empathy and vote, then we choose each other and remind the world again why it once viewed us a compassionate and prosperous nation.