ELECTIONS ARE MOST OFTEN ABOUT PROBLEMS, as they should be – a government’s legacy is on trial. And the coming federal election has had more than the usual share of difficulties. There were the expected: corruption in government, economic upheaval, the bottoming out of oil prices and the sliding Canadian dollar, severe privacy in the PMO, the cross purposes between the feds and the provinces. And then the unexpected: our meager response to the refugee crisis has placed a certain urgency into the things that trouble us.
There are those times, however, when we should consider just how fortunate enough we are that we – average citizens – possess the ability to alter our fate, to set a new course, to recapture meaningful politics again.
Elections form a time when we are forced to acknowledge that we live as a part of something larger, more universal. We are compelled to place a certain restraint on our individual freedom as we contemplate our country as a whole, and our role within it. What Canada truly is never becomes firmly established due to our vastness and complexity, but it is during elections that we can dream about what we want it to be and mark a piece of paper to signal our desire to move in that direction.
As individuals we derive the ability to view the system from the outside. Sadly, politics, and perhaps especially the present government, would like to just keep us there, watching from a distance and remaining separated from our collective potential as a citizenry. We are informed that government is too often in our way and that we should just move off, back onto our own path, and leave the rest to Ottawa. Yet in recent years we have witnessed the cumulative effect of a distracted democracy and a hyper-controlling brand of politics. We understand that our individual pursuits are actually impinged upon by the devastation of climate change, of a lack of infrastructure investment, of an economy too driven by the natural resource sector and not enough by the human resource dynamic.
And it is during an election that we get to turn our face once again to our heritage and our future and make a judgment call on how we respect the former and shape the latter. It is during election season that we get to transcend our personal limits and identify with the common cause of Canadians in general and their great potential as a people.
Between elections we are largely dominated by political jurisdictions that can either better or worsen our lot. But during elections themselves we become the dominant ones simply because the ultimate joy of democracy requires my approval, your approval, if it is to have a future and what that future will look like. We suddenly become important because we hold the vote.
In so many ways it seems so counterintuitive because for years politics goes on in ways that give us little thought. But not now, and not in this campaign. We are back, and this time we are a bit more engaged than usual because there are big problems we have to work on. And the glory of it is that we as individuals, by moving collectively towards the ballot box, can change the outcome, if we so desire. The joy of democracy is never so revealed as when an empowered citizen, aware of her larger responsibility, or his consecration to the future of his children, moves with others to address the nation’s condition. For a few weeks the attention is on us and, this time at least, we appear to be more interested in the need for change.
James Russell Lowell said that democracy gives every man and woman the right to be their own oppressor. He meant that we get what we vote for, and that if we permit a negative situation to continue, then we are ultimately to blame for our collective and individual fates. Yet the opposite can be true; we can be our own liberators, freeing ourselves from the poisonous kind of politics that pits people against one another and the opportunity to come together in ways in which Canada itself triumphs. This is the greatness of democracy – we decide, and we see its fate in the mirror.