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.
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, 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 a key 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.
I spoke with a Conservative at a church last Sunday who commented that he thought Stephen Harper “just wasn’t ready” (an interesting twist on the Con ads concerning Justin Trudeau’s youth) to be elected because his administration had become so corrupt and secretive that it put the lie to the PM’s first effort at legislation: the Accountability Act. The party had changed and he knew it. Journalist Chantal Hébert’s observation on this point is prescient:
“If Harper’s most trusted aides — many of whom are still in place — were willing to use every lever at their disposal to lie their way out of an embarrassment to the Conservative party, how far would they go to sway public opinion on a matter of central importance to the government and the country? And if voters — upon being presented with undeniable evidence of a high-level cover-up designed to mislead them — are content to look the other way, how can they expect future governments to think twice about the risks of fooling Canadians into believing whatever best serves their partisan purpose?”
Our communities have quickly arrived at the point where they have just given up trying to figure it all out. In our desire to have everything – low taxes, affordable education and healthcare, security, independence, pensions, and meaningful investments in research and employment – we have persuaded our politicians that winning power trumps effective policy. Consequently, average citizens have 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 many Canadians 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 greater things of life are what should matter during a federal election, but they shouldn’t be paraded across the country as some kind of travelling bazaar. They are serious and speak to our collective condition as nothing else can, as when John Maynard Keynes noted, “The important thing for Government is not to do things which individuals are already doing, but to do those things which at present are not done at all.”
If politics is to be at all serious and effective it must, above all, be consistent and collaborative, neither of which has been evident so far in this election campaign. Politics is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.