Canadians need to be more demanding of government
By: John Kennair
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 05, 2012 06:00 am
What is the difference between a fool, a smart person and an intelligent one? The fool never learns from his mistakes, the smart person does, and the intelligent one learns from the mistakes of others. In this paraphrasing of Machiavelli, we all have played these roles in our lives, but we should be striving to become better. And if we apply this to politics, why do we not expect the same from our governments? Or does the government expect less from us?
What has sparked these questions has been all the coverage of the U.S. elections, which are always based around the same issues, never seeming to move forward. It is like these two political parties are frozen in time, bickering over issues that neither party ever addresses when elected into the presidency. Worse still is that their approach to challenging each other is to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on negative campaigning, while bringing very little substance to the debates or election.
And we are not immune from that up here in Canada. We, too, have been infected with this disease of political rhetoric, and it seems that we are unable to learn from the lessons of history. Just take the Quebec election, which seems to echo the rhetoric that surrounded the late 1950s, with corrupt governments and the rise of the sovereignty movement. While this election too runs negatively slanted campaigns, no one is bringing forth practical solutions to solve the province’s ailments.
Unlike the U.S., we do have limits on how much can be spent during an election campaign, bringing some equity to the whole charade, sparing us from the multitude of negatively-based commercials. But why is this approach to elections tolerated? And where is the substance to all of this?
The quick answer is that our party system has found that this works. Their goal is simply to get elected and to form the government, and they have been continually rewarded in the past for their political rhetoric. So they are not going to mess with a good thing. If all they have to do is put forth vague policy ideas, with little or no demand for substance to these policies, then why do so? And this leads to the second part of the problem.
The media thrives almost parasitically on these styles of campaign, thus turning us into voyeurs rather than informed decision-makers – informed voters. The media’s goal is to make money, and it does so by selling advertising space. This means that the more dirty or negative a campaign becomes, the more advertising space they can sell. It also means that they save money by not having to find the substance of the campaign, to investigate what is truly behind these vague, rhetorical policy proposals. And so, as voters, we are left in the dark.
What can we infer from all of this? Does our political system not have the ability to change to become better, or is it really that it does not want to change? If it is the former, then we should really be questioning the value of our system of government as incompetent, failing to do its job to become better for all Canadians. If it is the latter, then the government really does not look out for our interests, but worse, it sees us as fools to be fobbed off with rhetoric and empty promises.
If we want a better Canada we need to learn from our past mistakes, and more importantly, from the mistakes in the U.S. system, demanding better of our governments.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.