Election 41: When It Happens, Let’s Make It Count

Friday’s vote in the House of Commons means that we Canadians are spared for the time being from going to the polls. Maybe for 10 days, maybe for 10 months. My guess is that the between the support of the NDP and the Bloc, the Conservatives will be able to marshal Parliament through a fall sitting. Following the Vancouver olympics, they will bring forward a motion that neither party can support, sending Canadians to the polls in March or April of 2010.

Canadians don’t seem eager to go to the polls. Which is funny, because if you believe the polls from the last couple of months, a majority of them also want to see someone besides Prime Minister Harper lead the country. Which is even funnier, because polls indicated that Canadians (outside of Quebec) overwhelmingly opposed the idea of a coalition government between the Liberals and NDP (supported by the Bloc Quebecois) when it was proposed several months ago. I’m at a loss for options that will therefore please the majority of people (at least those responding to these polls).

In any case, it looks we’re headed for another election soon – certainly before the 40th Parliament’s mandate expires in 2012, and likely before 2010 is finished. I think the combination of a lack of enthusiasm for an election as well as for the status quo indicates one thing – voters don’t believe the election will change anything. You can’t blame someone for thinking that – polls indicate the next parliament will look like the current one, and if recent elections are an indication, the campaign will be more about fearmongering and name-calling than serious policy considerations.

Most Canadians seem to be unsatisfied not just with government, but with the level of discourse and debate in politics. The next election is an opportunity for voters – to ask tough questions, demand to see policy and discussion surrounding it, and to reward those party leaders and candidates who do so. Done right, another early election can be a good thing.

Which is why I was encouraged to read Michael Igatieff’s speech to the Toronto Board of Trade.

Ignatieff Speaks

Almost three months ago, I blogged about Michael Ignatieff’s town hall in Edmonton. He outlined a vision for Canada, and with speeches such as today’s on the economy and last week’s about Canada’s place in the world, he’s starting to articulate how he would move the country towards that vision. We need more of this. There is certainly a place in political speeches to critique the actions and views of other parties, but when that becomes the prime focus of your speeches, and you move away from informed critique to ad hominen attacks and misinformed generalizations, everyone loses out.

While you may not know it if you just tune in during elections, especially the leadership debates, our four national party leaders are all smart, accomplished people – as is BQ leader Gilles Duceppe. Between the five of them we should be able to have a real debate about the values and future direction of our country.

Michael Ignatieff is an accomplished author and public intellectual. He has written extensively about nationalism, national identity, and foreign policy. He has studied and lectured at some of the world’s leading universities. Let’s hold him to account, and make sure he spends his time talking about issues like foreign policy, the economy, and nationalism, rather than demonizing the Conservative government.

Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper addresses the worlds media

Stephen Harper was the Policy Director of the fledgling Reform Party, and one of the more active minds of his generation. He challenged the status quo and helped present a coherent vision of a more conservative Canada. As Prime Minister, he has abandoned selling a vision, choosing instead to advance causes like Senate reform by stealth, and to woo voters with piecemeal measures one microtargeted group at a time. Mr. Harper has been Prime Minister for 3 1/2 years, and there’s a good chance he’ll continue to be Prime Minister after the next election as well. With this office, what is he trying to accomplish? What is his ultimate vision for Canada, and how does he see us getting there? The Prime Minister would be well-served by laying his cards on the table. We can judge for ourselves if someone is not a leader, or just visiting Canada. So let’s hear less of that and more of where you want to take our country.

Jack Layton in Edmonton I

Prior to his election as leader of the NDP, Jack Layton was a respected Toronto City Councillor, President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and author on the issue of homelessness. Since then, he has spent more time on the campaign trail spouting platitudes about “working families”, demonizing the Liberals and Conservatives, and railing against big corporations. Aside from the “NDP Budget” he extracted from the Liberal Party in 2005, we haven’t seen or heard much about what the NDP stands for. Our cities face significant financial challenges, both in raising revenue and addressing the need for infrastructure and services. Homelessness remains a significant problem. Let’s hear you talk about how you would address those.

Elizabeth May, Green Party leadership candidate

And wither Elizabeth May? For all the talk that Michael Ignatieff was invisible all summer, what has Elizabeth May been up to? Besides turning up to announce she was running for, then contest and win, the nomination in Saanich-Gulf Island, Ms. May has been conspicuously absent in recent months. You would think the leader of a party on the outside of parliament would be making a compelling case that her party would be different than the dysfunctional caucuses inside the House. It would, you know, try to make parliament work.

More importantly, where is May, the lifelong environmental leader, to speak out as we head towards the next round of climate change talks in Copenhagen. Isn’t this precisely the type of issue she got into politics to address?

It’s important we don’t place all the burden or blame on our public officials. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport. As citizens, we have a responsibility to hold public officials and candidates for office to account. As we head towards another election, we have an opportunity to demand more of party leaders and candidates for office. We can demand that they discuss issues seriously. We can reward the ones who do, and punish the ones who don’t. These things take time and effort – to vote, to analyse and discuss party platforms and policy issues, to volunteer our time in support of people and causes we support – but good government and serious debate don’t magically happen. It takes the time and effort of citizens and officials at all levels.

If our citizens and our public officials are up for it, Election 41 can be a good thing. We should all do our part to make it happen.


5 Responses

  1. Enjoyed your piece. Thanks!

    In all fairness to Elizabeth May and the Green Party, they’ve expressed their views all the issues you mention: http://greenparty.ca/media_releases

    There’s also a big Copenhagen counter on their front page.

    The problem with the Greens has always been getting coverage in mainstream media, hence this general impression that Ms. May was absent.

    That’s too bad and it has always hurt the party.


    Disclaimer: I used to work full-time for the Green Party.

  2. Thanks Hervé. I hadn’t found any coverage of the Greens on these topics in the MSM. If they are having trouble getting covered, are there ways they can get their message out without relying on mainstream media outlets? I suspect most people have no idea what the party is doing on these issues.

  3. […] Election 41: When It Happens, Let’s Make It Count « Alex Abboud alexabboud.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/election-41-when-it-happens-lets-make-it-count – view page – cached + Metric, Joel Plaskett, and Hey Rosetta! are all worthy choices IMO. RT @Sperounes My choice for Polaris? Metric's Fantasies. 1 hour ago + @kylafisher You can probably find it online later tonight (or tomorrow morning, for you). I might tweet some updates if it's a good episode. 1 hour ago + Strong @M_Ignatieff speech on the economy: http://is.gd/3x1wz Summary: http://bit.ly/4prWET #cdnpoli #lpc (via @larrylarry @sheamusmurphy) 2 hours ago * Flickr — From the page […]

  4. Excellent post.

    1. I think the reason public opinion doesn’t seem consistent about the need for an election, for change, and for a coalition is because we’re seeing different groupings (coalitions, if you like) of the public in the majority for each of those questions. CPC supporters are in the majority for not having an election, but in the minority when it comes to opinions on Stephen Harper, etc.

    Think of it as though there are several blocs of public opinion (e.g. 5 or so) and they keep aligning differently, so the same three are never aligning together on all the questions posed to them.

    2. I don’t think it is fair to say that Harper is trying to reform the Senate by stealth. We have no evidence of this. We know he’s given lip-service to reforming the senate, and he’s tried openly to bring in Senate elections—all that is public knowledge. We also know that he’s appointing Senators which undermines his goals (which people like me think means he’s given up on actually doing this). What is he doing by stealth?

    – Mustafa Hirji

  5. Thanks Mustafa!

    Regarding point 1, I can see that being the case.

    As for point 2, I’m referring to his attempt to legislate the election of Senators through an act of Parliament, rather than pursuing reforms to the Senate a constitutional change, as he may need to. I understand that progress on Senate reform may only happen in increments, but the Prime Minister should nonetheless present his full vision for a reformed Senate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: