Monday, October 04, 2010

Incumbents Rule! Media Choose! Democracy in Canada!!

So. Thirty-nine percent turn-out. Incumbents invariably voted in. Why exactly do we hold municipal elections? Or provincial? Or Federal? Oh yeah, it’s because we live in a democracy.

Perhaps.

In the city states of Greece, it came to pass every free man voted on the issues and thus became a system of government called “democracy.” It morphed into representative democracies over the centuries and across countries, such as the one we hold so dear here in Canada. Actually, I doubt we hold it dear. No longer does every single citizen considered a person have to vote on each and every issue; instead we delegate, reducing our burden of citizenship down to voting on who will represent us. But that’s too big a burden for us Canuckians. Sixty-one percent don’t vote in Toronto municipal elections; 39 percent just tick the box of whoever is in power; and in every provincial and federal election, many Toronto ridings pretty much stay put.

To make matters worse, the media really, really don’t like races that include more than two horses, um, politicians. At the start of every election campaign, the media heads pick the ones they like, ignoring any others with good ideas, focus on their chosen ones in this era of infinite information space on the Internet, and begin their own campaign of get-rid-of-the-candidate(s), especially those pesky smart women who are upstaging the target of their fanboy adulation, until what’s left for the voters to choose is cut down to two. And if they fail in that, begin another campaign calling for people to vote the fanboy fave in to prevent the scary candidate not getting in, never mind the other candidates many may consider the best one for the job. We don’t have the luxury of voting for the best one. Pundits and black-and-white thinkers who like the easy simplicity of the US system aid and abet this erosion of democracy. Federal party leaders have dipped their toe into the waters of appointing candidates for election, liked it so much, they go whole hog with this non-electing thing whenever they can too. One party even liked it so much, they’ve done it twice when choosing their leader (Sheila Copps’ principled stand notwithstanding).

So I propose a new form of government. Once a person has been voted in to office, he or she can stay until they decide to retire. That makes it easy for the 39 percent; they can join the 61 and hang out at the pub instead of having to spend an hour to get to the poll, get their ballot, find the name they know, tick it off, fold the ballot, and stuff it in the box. Then every 20 or 30 years, whenever the incumbent feels like retiring, we’ll hold an election, unfortunately. I know this will be tough, spending an hour ticking off a box and maybe another couple of hours beforehand finding out about the candidates, reading their literature, thinking, but, you know, life is tough. Then during an election, the media are forbidden from running stories about how this candidate or that candidate, maybe, might, is thinking about dropping out of the race, and they are required to run stories on every candidate in equal measure (should be interesting in a mayoralty race with 20 or 30 candidates). Or maybe we should have a total media blackout on the election, since making the effort to vote gets so many Canuckians down and all, who wants to read about it beforehand. They just need to make public service announcements about the date and times. That’s all we need to know.

Meanwhile, since everyone was so upset about NDP Leader Jack Layton allowing NDP MPs to vote as their constituents – that is the Canuckians who voted them into office – asked, I recommend that Parliament cede all authority to the Prime Minister. I mean, it’s pretty much done already after decades of successive Canadian Prime Ministers accruing power to themselves with nary a peep from Canadian MPs, media, and populace, well, until recently. And given the response to Layton’s democratic move, Canada’s growing objection to the Prime Minister’s power was obviously a bit of the usual opining over a good beer, with no real passion behind it. Turning theory into the practical would mean that we no longer have to worry about first-past-the-post versus proportional representation or having to find out about the candidates; the party leadership would choose their own leader, who would become Prime Minister, alternating between Liberal and Conservative, and the House would become a show to replace the retiring soap operas. At election time, people could have party games where the winner gets to choose whom everyone will vote for or pot luck suppers using recipes supplied by the candidates, with the winning recipe being the one voted for on election day. I can see endless fun alternatives to the difficult business of reading and thinking about who is the best person to represent us. Even better, it would no longer matter when the media doesn’t inform us about all the candidates and forces their non-faves out. And if one is really lucky and has a long-living, power-loving incumbent, may never have to vote at all in their lifetime, kind of like whole generations being spared from going to war.

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