Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reflections Post Election


I am surprised that I have enough zing and verve in my writing to come up with the cloying rhyme in my title. As cheap as the turn of phrase is I will take that grade 10 variety, "poet and didn't know it" title. I am so dispirited at the outcome of our federal election that the temptation to crawl under a rock is too tempting. There were moments throughout the 2011 election campaign where I felt that there were the makings of a dramatic turning of the tide against the Conservatives and that their approach to campaigning, policy making and stewardship would be enough to evoke a response but clearly the skeleton closet has been held closed just long enough.

I do not see a point in trying to be objective or take a more journalistic approach to organizing my thoughts here today. I do not anticipate going into full out shrill rant. There just is not much point in pouring that type of venom - regardless of how justified or accurate I believe it to be - into corner of public discourse that gets me 3-4 readers a week, month or year on this outskirt of cyberspace. I wake up with realizations about my professional and personal future that things will change in unwelcome ways and the uncertainty and discomfort to come will demand more of me than I can imagine at this time.

When I have had my little turn at the soapbox, usually in a small circle of friends or when my slightly more than apolitical wife lends me her ear I have said that the problem with the election now is that citizens have disappeared from this country and they have been replaced by a three-headed entity which consists of the drowsy voter, the angry taxpayer and the well-sated but still voracious consumer. It is at the feet of those creatures which I lay the blame for the past election and the consequent debacle which Prime Minister is cuing up momentarily.

The talk of tax credits, the cost of election and other matters either provoked this three-headed monster to vote Conservative or to tune out the complexities of the debate about this very complex country. An alternate to "voter apathy" that I would propose is "citizen disintegration." It does not role off the tongue as smoothly as the title to this post but it gives a broader fleshing out of the issue than the more commonly used term. Turnout in the 2011 election is reported to be around 58%, the type of numbers that Canadians once mocked their neighbours to the south for and we will only be mocked by being lead with a disdain for democracy and pluralism that reflects our collective indifference. (My recycling of the title there was completely coincidental.)

That three headed creature that gave the ballot box a pass on May 2 is only one concern. The parties and politicians fell into whatever content-free tendencies that Marshall McLuhan portended once upon a time and have been honed to perfection by other politicians on the hustings in Canada and abroad over time. Stephen Harper's control throughout the election, stage managed down to the very moment when he sipped his water and how carefully his rally attendees were vetted. The campaigns did their best to avoid exposing the party leaders to the realities of the issues at hand. The Liberals failed to deal unequivocally with the constitutional realities that made the issue of coalition less of the bogeyman that the Conservative insisted it was, the NDP continued to believe that it could form a government, even after the results were in and their status as official opposition a somewhat pyrrhic one. The "debates" that took place at the halfway pole of the election were not policy laden but position laden and as with the oft cited Nixon-Kennedy watershed were more about appearance than content.

The mass media proved itself to be either too cowed or too preoccupied with cheerleading to delve into the issues and clarify the issues that were at stake. The burgeoning train wreck that is Sun TV made no issue about unleashing its disdain for the opposition parties to assure viewers they were nothing more than the media arm of the Conservative Party. It is also worth nothing that there was little of the ballyhoo about finding the new network a spot on the dial from cable providers. I have not determined if it is a matter of people not wanting to watch or if the cable providers recognized a kindred spirit in the battles with the CRTC to come and gladly accommodated them. The CBC occasionally showed a capacity for investigation, and Terry Milewski locked horns with Stephen Harper on a regular basis but they were quick to retreat from the opportunity to be deep enough to address the issues in a manner that might risk portraying them as anti-Conservative.

While many people maybe quick to cite the 40% plurality turning into a Conservative majority and fault the system, but it is a system that we have all grown up with and we - as citizens should we choose to don that mantle again - ought to know this now in our country. Majorities have long been the case with this outcome. There might be a new clamour for proportional representation or another system to encourage voter involvement but the fact is that there needs to be a new tone to the dialogue. Politicians who favour being frank over tactical, who savour democracy over voter suppression and choose to address the issues of the day and actually take positions and give voters options in changes of direction would all be dearly welcome but the odds of these changes occurring are as likely as Stephen Harper listening to Jack Layton any better than a dog does to a human.