Monday, January 16, 2006

Politician = Optimist; Voter = Pessimist

"I get so annoyed with politicians who promise, promise, promise during campaigns, then don't deliver when they're in office." Doug Bower

"They look like kids fighting for goodies tumbling from the electoral pinata." Luis Anderson

"They're like a bunch of little boys fighting. I'm fed up with all of them." Adrianne Jackson, The Toronto Star, GTA Section.

It's easy to not vote, to complain instead about the childish behaviour of our politicians when they yell over each other during Question Period, or brandish lying attack ads, or call each other names then reluctantly apologise in the House. It's easy to not vote, to harrumph instead your frustration with their broken promises, their dangling of goodies in the form of tax cuts or program announcements you know and I know they will never keep. It's easy to not vote, to instead bitterly pronounce upon the crookedness of all politicians who are in it only for the money, the power, the fame, themselves and couldn't care less about us or about their country.

It's easy because it lets you off the hook of saying, "OK I'm fed up with the Liberals and Conservatives, but who are these other parties? What do they stand for? What have their candidates in my riding done to improve their environment (the little bit of society that they have had an influence over)?" It's easy because learned helplessness is a hard state to climb out of and requires a conscious choice to do so. It's easy because humans like to bicker and complain and do nothing, and when opportunity arises to do something, we soon find excuses to avoid that something. The least something is voting. I may vote -- I was ecstatic when I turned 18 and finally could -- but I can complain with the best of them.

And then I noticed Stephen Harper the first week of the election. Like Jean Chretien and Paul Martin he had sewn up his leadership win. Unlike them, none of the electorate knew who he was except that he looked kind of menacing (close-set eyes), which view was nicely aided by the media and the Liberals. He had barely won the leadership contest when an election was called, and by the end, he had proven himself arrogant, boastful, and not having much idea of anything, except that the Liberals were bad. He had lost a certain election. With Belinda Stronach leaving because of his ineptness in dealing with her and his constant, boring tirades against Liberal corruption, he had sealed the vast view of him as a bad idea-less leader. He should resign, we all thought. Yet there he was in the first week of the election, campaigning as if he had a chance, persisting against the odds.

And then there's Jack Layton and Jim Harris of the Green Party. Both the NDP and Greens are ignored, the latter more than the former. There's the universal assumption that the NDP can't ever win power never mind become the Official Opposition, and that the Greens don't have a hope of winning even one seat, hence the shut-out in the TV debates.

Still all three plunged into the election enthusiastically. Harper continues to believe in himself and in the ability of the Conservative party to win an election, and he worked with the party to devise a solid policy plan that they ingeniously rolled out day after day. Layton uses the evidence of his influence in Parliament to pound home the point that there are more than two parties in Parliament, that he can make a difference in the governance of Canada, and that he does represent Canadian interests. And Harris looks at the lowest voting numbers the NDP ever got and still won seats as evidence that the Greens can win a seat, and he uses every opportunity the media give him to talk about his party's policies and how immensely Canada and Canadians will benefit.

Politicians aren't paid rich sums of money. We howl at them any time they get a raise. They face spit-in-their-face rejection during every campaign. Voters do not. We do the spitting. They toil in Parliament to shift the moribund Liberal government to get something, anything done while we voters yell at them about how they're all a bunch of bickering boys. They spend hours and hours reading, discussing, listening, learning so that they can affect policy and passage of bills (most do, some are lazy, that's true) while we complain that they're all lazy good-for-nothings. And here they are still at it while we find reasons not go to their website (they're all biased) or to candidates' meetings (Layton won't show up) nor read the paper or watch election coverage (the media's biased) to learn more about each party and each candidate in our ridings for a few weeks every 2-5 years.

Bower drew up a pledge of honesty and asked his candidates to sign it. He got varied responses, but found out more about how Parliament works and what his candidates think because of it. He got engaged.

Anderson e-mailed his candidates and discussed it with the one who called him back. He got engaged and "it felt good."

Jackson took the simple route. She won't vote. She remains fed up.

And then there's this non-voter who's as optimistic and excited as Harper, Layton, and Harris:
"Haushik Bhatt, 49, can't wait to vote. The Poll 37 resident who came to Canada in 2002, won't be a citizen until next November, but he's been following this election closely and jumped at the chance to attend the weekend event. "If I vote, I feel like I am part of Canada," said the quality assurance technician for a Brampton machine parts manufacturer who voted in every election in his native India. "My wife told me about this and I was happy to join her," he said. "I would like to vote now." " Laurie Monsebraaten, The Toronto Star, 16 January 2005.
I decided at the beginning of this election that, although it would be difficult, I was going to become engaged in the process, and I've not felt so optimistic about an election since my first one. In the end, it won't matter to my mood how it turns out because the act of expressing my voice and being heard is what has made the difference.

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