Opinion » Maxed Out

Apathy taking root for good reasons



I am confused, dispirited, disappointed and generally fed up with politics, at least at the senior levels of government. The resulting malaise is giving me new insight, perhaps even empathy, for those many who have decided voting in elections just isn't worth the effort.

My tree of apathy has two major roots. The most insidious and odious is the Westminster Parliamentary first-past-the-post system of elections. If you wanted to concoct a soul-sapping model of electing a nation's political class, a system designed to alienate, marginalize and disenfranchise large portions of a country's population, you'd be hard pressed to come up with a better one.

Case in point: Alberta. It is a common complaint among moderates, liberals and progressives in Canada, that Stephen Harper's Progressive Conservatives won their current governing majority, 54 per cent of parliamentary seats, with just under 40 per cent of the popular vote. The sting of Our Supreme Leader's majority is made even more painful by the self-inflicted loser mentality of the parties — NDP, Liberal and Green — who, together, might be said to represent moderates, liberals and progressives. Collectively, those three parties garnered about 53.5 per cent of the popular vote, meaning a sizable majority of voting Canadians did not choose the current governing party.

Two weeks ago in Alberta, Rachel Notley's NDP won 62 per cent of the province's legislative seats with 40 per cent of the popular vote. The conservative vote, split between the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties, drew 53 per cent of the votes cast but between them only 35.6 per cent of seats.

And lest you think these outcomes are anomalies, look at what happened last week in the land where this idiotic idea was birthed, Great Britain. David Cameron's Conservative party was elected to a significant majority with 37 per cent of the popular vote!

Any system that allows one party to rule with a majority, which is to say more or less at their whim, while lacking the support of nearly two-thirds of those who vote is insane. Or, brilliant. Brilliant if your agenda embraces so completely turning the majority of your citizens off the idea of taking part in the politics of their country.

I know I won't live long enough to see any reasonable form of proportional representation adopted in Canada. But I also know the political life of this country is in a flat spin, a downward spiral that will inevitably lead the disenfranchised, disappointed and dispirited majority to either resign themselves to the fringes of political life or take to the streets in protest.

Sometimes, I believe that is what Our Supreme Leader wants. Protest in the streets, violent suppression by a militarized police force, surveillance and harassment by (in)security forces steroidally-enhanced with the sweeping new powers wrapped up and delivered by Bill C-51, wholesale sellout to corporate ownership and a country run by and for the exclusive interests of the business and moneyed classes.

We are well on our way if not already there.

My second root of apathy is, well, the folks leading or wanting to lead this parade... and, quite possibly, those of us who will or will not be voting for them.

There was a time, perhaps so long ago the notion seems quaint and outdated, when politics and many politicians, was about public service. Not the kind of public service that doles out goodies but the kind of public service that builds nations, creates national identities, lays the groundwork for the generations to come.

Politics — it even sounds dirty when you say it now — built this country. The railroads, highways, ports, breakwaters, sewers, water systems, hospitals, social safety net, schools, parks every part of an infrastructure we quietly take for granted. Successive generations of politicians worked hand in hand with businesspeople and entrepreneurs to create opportunity. Didn't always go well but they managed to strike a reasonable balance that resulted in progress, a strong middle class, national pride and international recognition.

So what do we have now?

A leader who wants to dismantle the country and remake it as something we don't recognize. A mean-spirited, power-hungry control freak who has no respect for the democratic institutions of government. A man who will not just ignore science and fact-based decision making but will dismantle the scientific sources and fact collectors who provide inconvenient data that doesn't support his ideological agenda. A bully and a coward who won't face off with either the people he supposedly governs nor honestly engage in debate with those who oppose him. An "economist" who has undermined the nation's economy since taking office.

And a contender who's proving himself every day to be the lightweight shadow of his father's self his detractors have always said he is. Earlier this week it seemed Justin Trudeau was auditioning for the role of Mini Me Harper when he fell into lockstep with Our Supreme Leader and voted in favour of creating Police State Canada, casting his Aye, eh, for Bill C-51.

His apologists, especially the party puppets, defended the indefensible, citing "real threats to Canadians and our security." Real? Questionable. Expedient? More likely. The hope? "The Liberal Party will continue to work to amend the bill in committee, (virtually impossible) and when elected, introduce greater accountability, limits and controls."

Look! Pigs flying.

And Mini Me's financial plan, what little has been revealed, is a shuffling of the same cards from the same deck Our Supreme Leader is bottom dealing from. The proposed Liberal Canada Child Benefit is an economically unsound sop to voters dumb enough to put their vote up for sale. It's as transparently facile as Harper's vote-buying features in his recent budget. It is ecru to Harper's beige, a left-handed favour to Harper's right-handed favours. It is not nation building; it is pandering, worthy of contempt.

And then we had the drunken ravings of the Green-to-the-gills Ms. May at the Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner. If you don't believe the effect, intended or not, desired or not, of the Green Party is to split the progressive vote, ask yourself this: Why did Conservative cabinet ministers line up to quickly forgive, even praise her for her unfunny, ill-tempered, marginally obscene gaffe? Had it been any other leader from any other party, they would have been firing up the torches and sharpening the pitchforks and calling for his or her resignation. Hug-hug, kiss-kiss, keep splitting the vote, Liz.

Leaving us, in a world turned upside down, with an NDP government in Alberta, of all places, and a federal NDP leader who is the only national leader sounding at all statesmanlike. Having lived through Bob Rae's Not Ready for Prime Time Players governing(sic) Ontario, I can't imagine what a gong show a federal NDP government would be, not that I have to give the prospect much serious thought.

But the whole mess sure leaves me wondering and hoping something, anything reasonable emerges before voting — or not voting — time rolls around this autumn.