A new Federal election was called barely a week ago, and I'm fed up already! The posturing, self-righteous arrogance of the major party leaders is galling. Each one of them gets on the stump and declares that ONLY THEY have the interests of Canadians at heart. The others are only interested in power, or in serving their tiny constituencies, or are simply inept or without conscience. Each gets up and declares his respect for the ordinary Canadian, and tells us that the others think we're stupid.
I'm fed up, but I realize the responsibility isn't with the politicians. It's with the VOTERS. It's with US, because we buy this trash, we condone it, we put up with it, and we vote for them despite it. We have incredibly short memories from election to election. We don't hold politicians accountable on the substance of their records, and we allow ourselves to be manipulated when they turn on each other with dishonest distortions of one another's records, They continue to play the political games that we allow them to play.
Rex Murphy of the CBC, in commenting on the start of this new season of the Canadian political circus, said someting that caught my attention, "People will start to be engaged when the politicians stop being false....Why is it so hard for leaders to say what they think in words they would normally use. Three sentences of what they actually, really mean , in their own voices and words, would change the style of politics forever." In response, a viewer noted that he was dreaming, because so long as the current style of politicking worked, it would prevail. Both of them are right. It's going to be up to US, the VOTERS to bring about the condition that the current style no longer works.
And so, I'm wondering how we in the West can emulate the brave citizens of Libya and Saudi Arabia and Tunisian and Egypt, and foment a citizens' revolution to seize power from the autocrats of this debilitating game that substitutes power politics for reasoned debate and progress on policy. I think it may come down to a similar wholesale rejection of the political status quo - a kind of "throw all the bastards out" mentality that rewrites constitutions and establishes a new legitimacy from the bottom up. It's going to require a democratization similar to what's being sought after in those other lands.
Unfortunately, I don't have a plan on how to bring it about. But I have a couple of borrowed ideas about tools and tactics that already exist in some form that may be pieces of an answer.
My first thought stems from my experience as a voter in Washington State. There, and in several other states - most notably and famously, California - the initiative and referendum tools of democracy are used frequently and to pretty good effect. On almost every ballot, you will find measures - on the city, county and state levels - that have been placed on the ballot by citizen groups (initiatives), or that have been referred back to the voters by the legislature (referenda). This type of direct democratic participation, where citizens get to actually vote on policies, rather than on politicians, ought to take its place as a central and main thoroughfare of legislation. These tools put policy beyond the immediate reach of deal-makers, and they encourage citizens to become more responsible students of the pros and cons of measures, including financing. Very often initiatives and referenda detail exactly what taxes will me created or modified, and for exactly what period of time, in order to finance a desired project.
My second borrowed idea forms a more nebulous proposal. This calls for voters to promote and commit to standards that politicians would have to adhere to in order to receive their votes. These standards would have to be non-partisan to have a lasting effect on the overall fundamentals of how government is conducted. Otherwise, this would amount to no more than a splinter, political movement. An example of the type of standard that might be generated is that politicians refrain from attacking the character of their opponents, or from distorting facts, or their opponents records. Perhaps candidates would be subjected to university-style exams, in which they'd have to demonstrate an awareness of the positive aspects of policies they oppose, as well as the negative aspects of those they support. Non-partisan panels (or, more accurately, multi-partisan panels, made up of supporters of all candidates) would have to judge ads and speeches on their adherance to or violation of these standards.
The hardest part is this strategy is thatvoters would have to follow through and be willing to spoil their ballots, vote for alternate candidates, or abstain from participation altogether when the candidate of their choice violated the guidelines.
I welcome any response to these thoughts. Are any of the rest of you out there as frustrated by the state of affairs as I am? Any other ideas on how else to force politicians to present and debate their views with more integrity, and on how to democratize government, to make it more effective and less the political power game it is now?