Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summer Time Notice

Well, with summer being what it is, from time to time I find myself torn away from the computer and not giving the blog the time it deserves. From camping trips to regular trips back home, I often find myself away from the computer for a length of time.

However, despite summer being a slow down period for me and the blog, I shall do my best to contribute posts when the opportunity arises.

I drove back from my parents house today, partner in tow, and we had the most edifying conversation about numerous subjects on the way back to Saskatoon. As such, rather than attempt to talk about some of the news events going on in Canadian and Saskatchewan politics, I think I shall attempt to further that discussion here on the blog.

During our drive, we came to the sad conclusion that democracy is in a sorry state. Not just in Canada, but world wide. In fact, I began to think that perhaps democracy never worked in the first place.

Allow me to expand on that thought.

Democracy is a political system which operates on the foundation that society is a marketplace of ideas. That as we grow and mature, new ideas and thoughts enter the political marketplace and must be implemented or passed on.

However, in many democracies the marketplace of ideas is dying. I say this because of how the landscape of political parties is changing in our century. As it stands now, many parties know this phrase: Crowd the centre.

Centrist voters are forming the largest chunk of voters in modern times, people who do not see themselves as 'left' or 'right' but rather 'sensible'; and want a 'sensible' government to represent their views.

As such, political parties have begun to abandon positions and differences and even morals to 'crowd the centre' in an attempt to sway these voters to their party. As such, when many say they see no real difference between Party A or Party B, they're actually quite right in saying so.

But there is a bigger problem than the crowding of the centre; rather, there is the problem of the stunting of debate.

As time goes by, cooperation seems like a dirty word in politics. This is because of the nature of competition that is spawned by the democratic process. We elected parties, who have positions and views, and as such it is important that they stand by those positions and views...Unless they feel the need to court centrist voters.

As such, in a democracy, you always have a government and a government-in-waiting. In order to go from government-in-waiting to government you need one of two things:

1.) The current government to so successfully implode in public opinion that nothing you say or do can harm your chances (See the Conservative Party in the UK in the last election, or the Canadian Conservative Party in the wake of the Sponsorship Scandal)

OR

2.) In the previous legislative session, clearly define the differences between your party and the current government (usually through a wedge issue or buzz word) and let that carry you to victory.

The problem with the second scenario, at least, is that it dumbs down the exchange of ideas in the marketplace.

For example, the use of wedge issues often forces voters to vote against their best interests. There are environmental conscious Conservatives, for example, who may disagree with the Conservative environmental policy...BUT vote for them time after time simply because no other party represents an issue they consider more important: such as Abortion, or tax cuts, etc.

As such, political parties are becoming parties of wedge issues. They foster an atmosphere where one or two issues become major talking points while all others are avoided until they need to be dealt with years down the road.

This restricts the conversation and defines an election through a very narrow lens. But the fact of the matter is most parties prefer it this way. By narrowing the focus of an election, or even democratic debate, parties are better able to control not only the message but the answers.

By which I mean, parties are able to present themselves as having the best answer to the problem that they continue to mention. But by repeatedly slamming our heads against a single message, Canadians are being short changed on the full discussion and exchange of ideas.

I'd like to come back to cooperation, as I feel I left it dangling a little earlier. Cooperation is quickly becoming impossible in politics because of the nature of competition that democracy installs. Party A can't cooperate with Party B because if they do, come election time Party B will stay in opposition as opposed to becoming government.

After all, it's easier to oppose and criticize then it is to come up with alternatives. By obstructing government and opposing cooperation, opposition parties better their own chances of forming government in the next election. After all, why propose your own ideas and have them compromised with the sitting government to form effective legislation when you can use it as a party policy come election time?

So, clearly democracy is in trouble because of the competition that is fosters. We do not value honest debate, or wide discussion of the problems anymore. Rather, we now live in the era of the 'soundbyte' and wedge issue.

Furthermore, our idea of debate has now become "I yell louder than you, therefore my argument has more merit." This is in part thanks to pundits and spin doctors, both inside and outside of the political machine.

I can hear you asking, what does all this mean?

To be personally honest, and perhaps a little pessimistic, I am beginning to believe that democracy might be on its knees and waiting for the blow to the neck that finally kills it. Democracy, if we ever truly had it, is no longer working given how the rules of the game have changed.

Political parties have contributed to the decline of political discourse, but we the people also have our own role in this. In a recent CBC study, reflecting on the last election, the majority of respondents who admitted to not voting said they did so simply because they didn't care.

Democracy doesn't work when the public becomes lethargic. Instead, when the public loses interest, we essentially become a nation of mob rule. Where those who do care, vote only for their interests, and not the best interest.

If this trend continues, I fear we'll see what is already happening in the USA: The rise of an oligarchy of wealthy individuals who wield more power in the political system than the average citizen. After all, keep in mind, corporations in the US can now contribute an unlimited amount of money to a political campaign.

Democracy doesn't work when the wealthiest among us control the message and those in power; it only works when it is truly a system of one citizen, one vote.

A ballot is perhaps the most priceless object a citizen can have, yet many of us are choosing to look at it as worthless. And when we throw away our right to vote, we shouldn't be surprised when those who do value their ballots dictate how the rest of us lead our lives.

Democracy needs an active and engaged citizenry to function; look at the nations full of tyrants across our world, where citizens are fighting and dying for the right to have a voice in how their government is formed and what it does. How can they have such passion for something they've never done (cast a ballot) whereas we in the western world would be content with a 'benevolent dictatorship' so long as it meant never having to stand in line for 10 minutes or more to cast a ballot ever again.

As with everything, be careful what you wish for, because one day we might just get it...And it will be hell to fight to get back what we lost.