By Jason Menard
I hate politics.
Let me clarify. While I love the potential of my government institutions, I hate politics and what it does to people.
You might want to lower that “fight the power” fist and hold off on that “hear! hear!” — because my issues, in large part, aren’t with the politicians. In fact, I may just be talking about you, dear reader.
The saddest thing is, many at the root of these problems likely won’t recognize themselves. Simply put, some of our society’s biggest advocates for broader social political involvement (and often the loudest when it comes to wailing ‘woe the disenfranchised electorate’) are often the biggest barriers to any hope of realizing it.
So what’s keeping Joe or Jill Average away from the polls? What’s behind this so-called lack of political engagement? Allow me to share my thoughts.
And with no election on the immediate calendar (now that a provincial election’s been avoided), we have time to fix these and get them right.
Hyperpartisanship: Many often lament the fact politics at all levels are too partisan in nature. It’s understandable considering the party-based nature of our system, but there’s an increasing polarization of both our politics, our punditry, and our populace.
We used to be able to work together in this country. We used to respect other’s opinions regardless of whether they were blue, red, or orange-tinged. Those days are long past.
Why are Sun and Fox News popular? Because our population as a whole is embracing American style politics. Even those on the opposite side of the spectrum from those news agencies engage in similar whitewashing (or red, or yellow) of the facts. Our pundits often work from a ‘he who shouts loudest shouts best’ platform. They’re just reflecting what exists on the grass-roots level.
And the worst offenders of all? Those who present facts as neutrally biased, yet underneath that veneer lies a strong coat of partisan interests. For those who rail against the dishonesty of the government in power, to selectively promote information is even more nefarious.
Political groups now exist almost solely in vacuums. And the only thing that gets sucked out is any diversity of ideas or thought. We often surround ourselves with like-minded thinkers, associate only with people whose political ideologies align, and listen to those who wear the same colour tie. Yet that one-flavour-of-Kool-Aid ideal isn’t real.
The majority of people don’t align with one party. They may be socially left; fiscally right. They may be middle of the road in everything, but dogmatically supportive of the arts. They may be staunch right-wing Christians, but support gay marriage.
So where are we reflected in this great Canadian political, one-size-fits-all political environment?
The Shame Game: How could you vote for that person? I don’t understand? Why aren’t people more upset with what X is doing? How can you think that? Why don’t you see that building up this region of the city/province/country should be our sole focus?
It all comes down to one statement — how can you not agree with me?
Worse than not voting for the ‘right’ candidate is not voting at all. How dare you? And don’t you know that if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain?
It can be intimidating. And some people just aren’t politically inclined. Just as we have the right to vote, we also have the right not to. That doesn’t eradicate one’s voice — the very fact that we pay municipal taxes gives us that right, not the act of casting a ballot.
We live in a community of judgement. How can “those people” support “that” candidate? How can “they” feel “that” is an important issue? Why won’t “they” wake up.
It’s political pretentiousness at its worst and all it serves to do is create a more divisive political environment where others’ needs and opinions aren’t respected.
The Cure Syndome: The Bards of Crawley once sang, “Whatever I do to make it real/It’s never enough/In any way I try to speak/It’s never enough.”
It’s the same politically and it can be discouraging to people who are trying to do their best. The word “engagement” is frequently bandied about without any real understanding of what it means. To some, engagement is solely attending council and signing petitions. To others, only political engagement matters for the community and you’re nobody if you’re not live-streaming council meetings or mainlining CPAC.
The funny thing? Those who are accused of not being engaged enough are blissfully unaware of the charge. Why? Because they’re busy helping out at their children’s schools, volunteering at various charities, they’re calling their Members of Parliament, or donating their time to the local senior centre.
They’re too busy being engage in the community to worry about not being perceived as “being engaged.”
The Big Bad Media: I used to be able to defend the media 100 per cent, but that’s changed. By and large — and knowing many people in the industry — I believe that it’s populated by intelligent and honest people who are just looking to share the truth.
The advent of social media has compromised that belief. When you have writers using official newspaper Twitter accounts to take personal shots at selected councillors that he or she doesn’t like, it undermines the ability of a publication as a whole to maintain its neutrality.
But it’s also a convenient excuse. The fact is a large segment of our society gets their news solely from mainstream sources. Instead of lamenting the system, we have to work within it to ensure the silent majority is well informed.
We don’t matter: Federally, many people feel their elected representative doesn’t have a loud enough voice. The issues of a riding don’t matter to the greater whole. And you can cascade down
The fix doesn’t come from above. It’s not a top-down solution, but rather a foundation that must be set at the base level — and it has to be a foundation of encouragement and respect.
So while it should be obvious why all of this is bad, let me summarize why this is counterproductive to those who want to see an increase in voter engagement.
I consider myself an educated follower of politics (as opposed to a Dedicated Follower of Fashion). This doesn’t mean that I’m smarter than the average bear, nor does it mean I hold three degrees in political science. I’m educated in a way that I’m a more-than-casual observer of all three levels of politics. I believe I have a responsibility to learn about all the candidates in my riding, cast an informed ballot, and hold the victors accountable after election day.
I believe in reading, listening, and watching. I believe in respecting those who agree with me and also those who don’t. I believe, politically, that we have a moral and societal obligation to cast an educated ballot.
That’s my personal stance. It’s why I choose not to support any one party and it’s why all of my votes are based on selecting the candidate who best serves my riding (and I’ve only missed one in my life — a Montreal municipal election which fell on the day of my daughter’s emergency induced birth).
So if a guy like me, with a high threshold for political bull, is fed of the political posturing, the abhorrent OIMBY-ism (Only in My Back Yard), and partisan pretentiousness, is it any surprise that people who don’t enjoy politics are fed up of the gamesmanship and have completely tuned out?
That ends up reflecting at the ballot box in lowered voter turnout. And that serves no one.
So what’s the fix? Simple: respect.
Be honest with the electorate, both as a politician and a political observer. Announce your biases up front and stand by your convictions with clarity. If you believe in your candidate, your party, or your stance strongly enough, then their policies and standards should be able to withstand constructive criticism and analysis.
Allow people to vote (or not vote) for whomever or whichever party they choose. And if you don’t agree, don’t denigrate their decision or beliefs. Voting for another candidate or supporting another cause doesn’t make someone better or worse.
And, most of all, be willing to work together even if your ‘team’ doesn’t win!
Canada’s not perfect, but it’s a far sight better than most places out there. And part of that strength is our ability to respect and grow from our diversity of opinions, experience, and perspectives.
Living in a vacuum? That just sucks. And the fact that this vacuum is currently on high is why I hate politics.