Engaging the electorate

With a federal election looming, is Canadian politics worth our time? Two students weigh in

Gareth Chantler, ArtSci '09
Gareth Chantler, ArtSci '09
Matthew Sigurdson, ArtSci ’12
Matthew Sigurdson, ArtSci ’12

Gareth Chantler, ArtSci ’09

Stephen Harper, the Toronto-born Buds fan, turned oil field working Alberta-isolationist, turned cat-loving right-of-centre centrist with a fetish for prudent fiscal conservatism; Jack Layton, the moustachioed blusterer with the pragmatic goals of ending war, lowering gas prices and halting global warming; Gilles Duceppe, the province poacher attempting to unfasten Quebec from Canada; Stéphane Dion, the absent-minded professor dedicated to the first half of the Liberal party’s two convictions: keeping Quebec attached and getting the most votes; Elizabeth May, the anti-abortion environmental disestablishmentarian, now a part of the establishment wannabe. Put these people in the same room, put it on television, and tell me you won’t watch it. I can’t think of more engaging reality TV.

Our political leaders are engaging not just because they are complex people, but also because they represent different positions on important issues. This federal election could see the beginning of the end for the Bloc and Quebec separatism and the end of the beginning to Stephen Harper’s decade in power.

Harper outlined in the debates his commitment to running surplus budgets, minimizing spending, denting the national debt, and keeping the tax burden low. Jack Layton’s position, for example, contrasts this, in that he would be more willing to spend in order to stem job losses and ease the financial burden of working families. It isn’t that Harper likes job losses or that Layton wouldn’t want a debt-free government that never ran budget deficits. It is that their approaches to the economy are different—and it is up to you to decide the approach you think is most prudent.

Some Canadians justify their apathy towards parliament’s composition with appeals to America’s electoral primacy. But what those transfixed on Obama-McCain don’t realize is that the U.S. president rarely makes a substantive difference to the policies of the American government. No president-elect of the past 50 years has promised to not bomb a third world country, no president is going to introduce universal health care and no president has any intentions of disrupting the economic status quo. In Canada, policies are much more malleable and much more is on the table.

The Kyoto Protocol is hanging in the balance. Each political party has vowed to cut emissions and to reach committed targets; so once again, you must decide who to believe. Equally uncertain is the footing of Canadian troops on Afghan soil. Nearly 100 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan and each party has a different idea of when to bring the rest home. Will that fact alone not inspire you to make the walk to your local voting booth?

Staying home isn’t a statement or a protest. You appear in the results as an ambiguous figure, either apathetic or ignorant. Unfortunately, one can’t tell if those who spoil their votes are protesting their choices or if they can’t keep their pencil between the lines. So even if you aren’t inspired by one party in particular, your best course of action is to vote for the least evil.

Things in Canadian politics change over time, albeit slowly. Our system responds imperfectly to our preferences, but it does respond. If the characters in this election were any more colourful they wouldn’t be real. If the issues were any less complicated our votes wouldn’t matter. Thankfully, they do.

Matthew Sigurdson, ArtSci ’12

Three elections in four years haven’t brought improvement. Each time, all we see are insults, denouncement, the kissing of babies and the House of Commons sitting empty and even more utterly inactive than usual. It’s indicative that we were more interested in the Democratic primaries than in anything happening in Canada. Can you think of a comparable time in the last few years when we’ve been that interested in our own politicians? Not unless you count the Gomery inquiry.

Did you know the “fabric of our society” has been coming apart since February of 2006? Stéphane Dion believes that the Conservatives are doing just that. Did you know that the Liberals intend to cause a recession? Guess who that came from. Is it surprising that our government hardly gets anything done? Yet somehow, everyone claims a plan for firm and decisive action—ready to be put in place just as soon as they’re elected—which, it is implied, will resolve every single crisis instantly.

Even then, they’ll only discuss topics where they’re on solid ground—Harper refuses to talk to Dion about the carbon tax, Layton won’t talk to Harper about the economy and nobody talks to Duceppe about Quebec. The people leading our country should be role models, people you’d like your children to grow up emulating.

We have a problem with voter apathy, but the problem is in the politicians and not the people; why else would seven MPs have crossed the floor since the last election? Changing sides seems an integral part of Canadian politics and it casts doubt on the true beliefs of the entire group. If you throw these people together in the House of Commons, don’t expect results.

And don’t forget that everything is filtered through the lens of the media, which therefore controls what the leaders say and do. For example, avoiding reporters seems to be considered a shooting offence; conversely, the Liberal campaign platform always seems to prominently feature a several-million-dollar budget increase for the CBC.

We have a world with war, homelessness, racism and poverty, and our leaders debate about their leaders’ debate; each party was either the Liberal party or believed that the Green party would unjustly give the Liberal party more of a voice. We have a world with AIDS, with terrorism, with hunger and with genocide, and we have Stéphane Dion shrugging his shoulders. We have a Minister of Agriculture who makes jokes about Listeriosis. We have political cartoons and little more.

Our politicians never talk about hope. They never talk about compassion, or justice or living in a great country stretching from sea to sea. They never talk about pride in being Canadian or tell us that the 21st century will belong to Canada. Can you imagine any of them winning the Nobel Peace Prize, as Pearson did? Can you imagine any of them one day receiving as grand and acclaimed a funeral as Trudeau did?

You have a duty to make a difference. Write letters to politicians or join one of the political groups on campus and one day run for office yourself. Just don’t follow your predecessors; make us care about you. Make us care about you and your election day will be the beginning of a great change.

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