Little Stevie was, gasp, enthusiastic, animated, cheerful, emotional… smiling. Yes, smiling! I didn’t even know the guy had teeth. When he was chosen to lead the last minority government he looked about as happy and comfortable as a man who just moved into a new house only to find out that his neighbours on both sides were Amway reps and the guy across the street sold insurance. This time around he looked, well, human.
There were only two moments during his victory address when he seemed distressed. The first came when he patted Canadians on the back, thanked them for their vote of confidence and told them their electoral decision ensured the very survival of “the true North, strong and free.” The uncomfortable buzzing in Stevie’s trouser pocket — indeed in the pockets of every member of the Harper electoral team — was an immediate call from VANOC warning him not to even think of moving into “With glowing hearts,” unless he wanted to face a copyright suit.
The second moment of discomfort was when he said, “The results tonight are a strong mandate for the policies of the Conservative government.” Stevie’s not a dumb man. He is, in fact, quite smart, a student of history and, of course, an economist, the combination of which goes a long way to explain the deep pool of warmth he usually exudes. Being a smart man, he knew as the words tumbled out of his mouth that only in Canada’s antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system can a politician create a “mandate” out of a minority win of one-third of all the votes cast by the lowest voter turnout in a country’s history. That pretty much puts mandate in a dead heat with sustainable in the race for words that have been stripped of all meaning.
And it begs the question: Whither the other 40+ per cent of eligible voters? Who are these people, this vast pool of Canadians, who are so apathetic, so self-absorbed, so indifferent to who runs the country that they couldn’t bother to cast a vote?
For the most part, they are not immigrants. Immigrants have jumped through enough hoops to become Canadian citizens that huge percentages of them vote. Perhaps they still believe in the dream so many born-and-bred Canadians — Canadians by chance of birth, if you will — have either given up on or never bought in to.
They’re not those poor souls with a heightened sense of civic duty, people who would be disappointed in themselves if they didn’t exercise their franchise. Those people are used to holding their noses, swallowing hard and casting a vote for someone they’d rather not sit next to on a bus or share a drink with, let alone have governing them. They vote, hoping that in doing so there might be a better selection of candidates next time or, at the very least, believing somehow that the act of voting lends legitimacy to their bitching about what a cesspool politics has become.