Friday, September 11, 2009

Why Elections are Important

Readers may beginning to notice my own exasperation with the exasperation of others concerning this coming election. As a political observer, it's true that I enjoy elections in part because I find them fascinating and exciting. But as a democrat, I strongly believe in the importance of participating in our democratic system and giving every election the attention and self-reflection it deserves. An election is not a burden, it is an opportunity to tell those who represent us what we think of them, and what we want them to do. Being able to participate in our democracy, to re-evaluate the decisions we've made in the past, is a privilege and exceedingly important.

I run this site because I believe elections are important and it is even more important to be an informed voter. During the election campaign I hope to go beyond reporting on polls and spend some time on the various party platforms and how the campaign is unfolding.

We've been seeing a lot of "another election?!"-type editorials and comments in the media, but we're also starting to see some backlash. On Wednesday I posted an article from the Toronto Star highlighting the economic advantages of an election. Today, here are some excerpts from an article in The Globe and Mail which I think are spot on:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the first to moan in, right after Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced his intention to pull the plug on the Conservatives' minority government...The PM's response was that he hasn't met “a single Canadian” who wants an election, which may only reveal the limited range of his contacts.

Yet many in the news media echoed it. I think at random of Suhana Meharchand on CBC Radio's phone-in last Sunday, chortling over the silliness of another election. I may have gone humourless, but I don't really get it.

In a vital democracy, like ancient Athens or the Iroquois confederacy, people were involved in politics continually. Under our system, politics more or less equals elections, so you could call frequent elections our form of participatory democracy. It keeps citizens engaged and parties on their toes. Under a stable majority, everyone goes to sleep for four years...

But everything turns upside down if you treat politics as a shopping trip – I don't waaant an election – rather than the ongoing duty of each citizen. It's like newscasters saying, “Thanks for watching,” as if we tune in to do them a favour, rather than from our need as citizens to be informed. Citizenship isn't a consumer choice that you may or may not make. People can opt out of it, but then they lose the right to complain, and it's a mingy choice to make if you think of kids and others affected by actions taken in the name of us all.

Besides, if these whiners really don't want an election and prefer Parliament “to work,” why did so many of them object to a coalition last winter? It was the very definition of making Parliament work in a minority situation. I don't think minority governments are inherently unstable; I'd call them inherently alert. The current one has indeed been unstable since it's so distant from the majority of members in the House and voters in the country. But, say, a Liberal minority could well find enough common ground with the Bloc and NDP to enact many things that most citizens would value.

It's the snickering and eye-rolling among media opiners that I find most offensive, as if their stance is so sophisticated...

If there is a problem with another election, it's that voting is all we're ever offered to satisfy our political impulses, and it is a repetitive and intrinsically shallow exercise. But this implies that we should vote for those ready to expand the arena of democratic participation so that we need not shoehorn the entire human political drive into the narrowness of elections.

If the United States can serve as an example for us, we have to be wary that our political discourse doesn't turn into divisive rhetoric. When I see the explosive and absolutely ridiculous debate on health care in the United States, I feel very thankful that in our country politics is at least usually rational. Let's try and keep it that way, and focus on issues and policy rather than who's to blame for an election, who's really an American in disguise, and who's a two-faced ideologue.

2 comments:

  1. I quite agree; elections are the core of our system of democracy. I would love to see Canada make voting mandatory. It seems reasonable to ask Canadians to spend a couple hours of their day every two to four years, in return for the many benefits that come with a robust democracy. Besides, I imagine having more undecided and presumably less partisan voters would make things a little more unpredictable, i.e., exciting, besides making vitriolic partisanship less effective.

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  2. I think the exasperation is not from simply having 'another' election, but having 'another' election for no purpose except because one party thinks they can win more seats.

    Lets be frank about this, the Liberals want an election because they feel they can do better than last time. They've offered no reason for the election other than 'Harper is a big meanie'.

    From a partisan viewpoint, having an election to win more seats is a good thing. From a good governance viewpoint, its a really really bad thing.

    Maybe that is why people are exasperated about it?

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