By Jason Menard
With all the nation’s eyes – OK, with a handful of eyes (and some of them heavy-lidded at best) – glued to the televised debates between the Canadian political party leaders, one important component of any election decision continues to be lost in the front-page shuffle.
Each and every time we head to the polls we develop an acute case of hyperopia. Issues of national interest rightfully grab the headlines, but they shouldn’t affect us to the point where we forget about our own backyards.
It’s hard enough to get Canadians to the polls and we do so in woefully inadequate numbers. People feel distanced from the political process because many think that these issues on The Hill won’t affect them personally. But that neglects the fact that we don’t elect a Prime Minister – we elect individual candidates to represent our constituencies. Those numbers then determine who runs the show.
So why do so many people have trouble identifying the candidates in their own riding, much less than what they actually stand for? We can identify basic themes from the national campaign that filter down and affix themselves to the local candidates, but I’d hazard a guess that the vast majority of voters have only a sketchy idea of what their individual candidate stands for in their very own riding.
Although this is a federal election, its foundation is built on the local. And that’s where we, as responsible voters, must start to build the rationale for our decision when it comes time to mark our ballot.
Unfortunately, there are rarely televised debates between candidates in a riding. More often than not, they’re running their campaigns independently of each other, preferring to leave the cross-party sniping and broadsides to the captains of their respective political ships. But the key thing that we as citizens must realize is that while each candidate generally falls in line on the big issues of national importance, there are local issues unique to their riding that can have a direct impact on how you live your day-to-day life.
And that’s where your vote truly matters. When it comes to elections, we’re all pretty much selfish people wondering what’s in it for us – and that’s why campaign promises are made. But nowhere are you more directly impacted than by the decisions and ideas put forth by the person vying to be your local Member of Parliament.
In this day and age, there’s really only one reason why someone can step up to a ballot box completely ignorant of their local candidates’ beliefs and platforms – laziness. Almost every candidate – and certainly those of the big three parties – have Web sites that offer the meat of their party platform. But those sites are also spiced with the regional flavour of local issues.
As well, most candidates are more than happy to answer your questions – or at least have one of their minions do it for you. A phone call to a riding will be returned, an e-mail will be responded to, and a public photo-op/meet-‘n’-greet is only a day away!
There’s a reason why when we put our addresses on things we write the city, the province, and the country – it’s because all three levels impact us. So too should these distinctions carry equal weight in an election campaign. To vote based solely on a broad federal platform ignores your local needs. And, conversely, the overriding philosophy of a federal policy will have some weight on the choice of a local candidate.
This election campaign has been described as choosing the lesser of all evils. But it only has to be that way if we ignore our local constituencies. By talking to our local candidates and finding out where they stand on the issues that directly affect us, we are creating a situation wherein we’re choosing the best person for our own, personal situation. And really, isn’t that what an election is about? We are choosing a person to represent US in Parliament, so why wouldn’t we want that person to accurately reflect the riding, its beliefs, and its unique situation.
In the end, this election is about much more than Gilles Duceppe, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, and Paul Martin – it is about the hundreds of candidates vying for the right to represent individual ridings. And we can’t let the bright lights of the federal stage blind us to the issues affecting us in our own backyards.
To make the right choice we need to restore balance in the way we look at our candidates, because a myopic perspective is no better than suffering from hyperopia. It may mean a little work, but the right answer for all of us will be easier to see with 20/20 vision.
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