Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Continuing the Thought

In the last blog post, I talked a bit about how the financial system in our democracy is ultimately harming our ability to vote effectively. If you didn't read it, the long and short of it is we need publicly funded elections in order to really hand power back to the electors of this country.

However, smaller details were also starting to nag at me a little. After all, once I stopped to think about it, its not just big money that is ruining the ability of electors to make an informed choice when they vote: It's also political parties in general.

Gather round children, cause it's story time with Uncle Scott.

I've worked on a number of political campaigns in my lifetime. I've gotten a few good funny stories about of a couple of them, but I've gotten a lot more frustrations and complaints. During the 2011 Provincial Election, I was something of an 'provincial helper person' for the NDP. I travelled a lot throughout the province and had a chance to spend a week or two on a couple different campaigns. It was pretty good experience to see how different, but similar, campaigns were run throughout the province.

It was in my last posting, which for the sake of being diplomatic I will not name, where I saw the bulk of the things that frustrated me with our political system.

The first was the common occurrence of damaged lawn signs. A good amount of time in our campaign was spent going around and repairing signs that had 'magically' fallen down. Nevermind the fact that the metal frame that held them in the ground was clearly bent in cases; or that in the case of larger signs, the wooden beams were clearly kicked to the point of snapping. Nope, no one was responsible for that.

Of course, I know the common answer here: It was just stupid teenagers out for a laugh. It's the common answer that is usually given whenever a sign disappears or is left behind but clearly damaged. Even with the benefit of the doubt, the amount of signs we ended up replacing over the course of a just a week suggests that there was a little more to it than just 'boys being boys'.

Even if a few of the signs were just mischievous kids; the regular occurrence, coupled with it often being in high traffic locations, suggest just the tiniest possibility of foul play.

And that brings me to the second common occurrence: The magically disappearing campaign literature.

Now, as I learned as a young campaign worker: It's basically mail fraud if you remove campaign literature from a mailbox or a person's home after it has been delivered. As such, since you're more or less committing a felony it's a good idea not to do it. However, our campaign at the time experienced a lot of oddities when it came to dropping our flyers.

A fellow campaign worker and I were out dropping flyers in a neighbourhood, and after awhile we started to notice that the flyers we had tucked into mailboxes (hanging so that they were visible, but secure from the wind) couldn't be seen. It was the middle of the day, on a weekday, so it seemed unlikely that all of them were already pulled in by the home owners.

Cue a rival team of canvassers.

Now, were they taking our flyers? I can't say 100% for sure, since I never physically saw it. But after we saw them, finished what we could, we went back to headquarters and asked what we should do. Our campaign manager suggested a simple approach: Go to a block of houses we know we went to, door knock and ask if they received the campaign literature.

So, we did. And low and behold, not a single house had seen the flyer.

Finally, and this is the one that annoyed me the most because it exists in a so-called 'gray area'.

Elections Canada, and Elections Saskatchewan for that matter, have clear rules about what is and is not appropriate on Elections Day. One of those rules regards the placement of campaign signs near the polling station.

Elections Saskatchewan states that campaigning cannot take place within 50 feet of a polling station. So, no signs, no posters, no meet-and-greets, etc, etc, etc. So, you can imagine how upset our entire campaign was when our opponent had a giant sign, in the back of truck, parked right across the street from the polling station.

Here's the caveat, the truck was parked in the private driveway of a campaign volunteer. So, while we did ask the Chief Electoral Officer for a ruling or some kind of guidance, we were more or less told that the private property fact meant we couldn't do anything.

After all, every Canadian citizen has the right to put up an election sign. So, we ran into an issue of a campaign clearly using this other rule to supercede another. As such, there was nothing we could do. Despite this clear attempt at what's known as 'electioneering', we couldn't do anything about.

Now, you may be asking yourselves: Why am I mentioning all of this?

Part of it is to serve as an counterpoint to the electoral stories we've heard from Brad Butt, Laurie Hawn, and Paul Calandra. But the bulk of it is to prove a point: As I said in the last post, every party has skirted the rules on financial matters. Just as every party, whether condoned by the party or not, has campaign workers who don't always follow the rules either.

Can I prove that any of the examples above were authorized by the party, or by the candidate themselves? Nope.

Can I prove that any of it was more than just a few overzealous campaign volunteers, especially with regards to the destruction of signs and removal of campaign literature?
Nope.

The sign across the polling place, while certainly seeming organized or at least done with the candidate in the know, is also something that I don't have proof for.

But, what it does provide is a narrative that we need to keep in mind. An election, in the minds of many political parties, is nothing more than a battle of opposing sides. And above all else, you want your side to win. It doesn't matter how you win, so long as you win.

And that is the mentality that has been creeping into our political system. Hell, the entire democratic process is practically based on this mentality right from the moment we allowed people to cast a ballot. Parties want to win, sometimes more than they want to govern. (See: Stephen Harper and his neverending career dream of destroying the Liberal Party.)

And much like 'floppers' in soccer, occasionally the teams use some pretty dodgy tactics to give themselves an unfair advantage.

Almost all of the political parties in today's system seem to be more concerned with winning an election than with improving our country. It's the reason why in every leadership race, almost every candidate is always introduced as the "Next Prime Minister/Premier/whatever." Yes, if you win you get to implement your policies. But at the same time, for many, it seems like winning is enough.

And when we become so focused on just winning for the sake of winning, or worse winning for the sake of making sure the other team doesn't, we put our blinders on. We can see this in the culture of corruption that has basically claimed the backrooms of the Conservative Party. From robocalls from the CIMS database, to robocalls about Irwin Cotler, to robocalls in Saskatchewan, to Eve Adams using her position to campaign for a nomination in a new riding; we see people making dodgy, and in many cases illegal, decisions for the sake of winning.

If we want to tackle election fraud and fair elections, the first place to look isn't to the voter: It's to the parties. We need to ensure that parties are following the laws that are written down for them; and that even a single rogue campaign worker is punished for daring to step outside those bounds. We need to stop letting parties find 'gray zones' in the laws, and instead insist that all parties remain on the fair footing that we're supposed to offer.

Who cares if it's not technically illegal or only against the spirit, but not the word, of the law? Parties, it seems, will take the shortcuts and moral lowroad to achieve the victory of winning it would seem. Democracy is supposed to foster policy discussion and alternative visions for our country; that is not what we've been getting.

We've been getting petty squabbles, bruised egos, and the spewing of vitriol on such a level that you'd think every single political opponent of everyone else is the Antichrist come to Earth. This is what happens when parties focus on winning for the sake of winning, rather than winning for the sake of improving your country. And frankly, it's time that we as electors demanded better.