Blind Man with a Pistol


The Sham of Electoral Politics

To use Alice Munro’s term, nothing gives me more dreariness of spirit than an election. A ‘free and fair’ election, the showpiece of democracy, the one trophy centuries of war and bloodlust have purchased, is the chief symbol and exercise of freedom, equality and liberty. Even the lowest amongst us has a voice to rival the powerful and the oppressor. It’s a wonderful idea, to be fair. Too bad we’re doing it all wrong.

First of all, the right to vote is a right many eligible Canadians don’t seem to want at all. The latest voter turnout 59% is the lowest ever recorded. And who can blame them? After three elections Canada still has a centre-right minority government that has again claimed it will rule as if backed by a mandate, without considering coalition, cooperation or conference. What really grates, of course, despite the bizarre rhetoric of media outlets that claim the Canadian electorate ‘wanted’ another minority government, or that we weren’t ready to trust Harper with a majority yet—as if one of the most diverse electorates in the world speaks with some kind of unified desire—is that the election results suggest Canadians ‘wanted’ a completely different government. As Ed Broadbent wrote in Thursday’s Globe,

As all Canadians know, the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens did agree on a number of economic measures, on social policy, the environment and protection for families in the current economic crisis. Since a majority of Canadians voted for these parties, they, not the Conservatives, should be determining our political agenda. Such democratic conditions work well elsewhere. Why not in Canada?

So for those keeping score, Canada got an election it didn’t need and got a government it didn’t want. And yet, while Broadbent is surely correct that Canada urgently needs to update its woefully inadequate electoral system, alone it will not fix electoral politics’ dire ailments.

While most of Canada voted for a centre-left government, Canada’s media endorsed Harper’s conservatives. The Globe & Mail, the Toronto Star and the National Post all supported Harper’s anti-journalist, anti-cultural agenda. While that may seem strange, when you consider that the kind of editorial environment corporate ownership by CanWest Global Media and CTVGlobemedia (partly owned by TorStar) must foster, why is it any surprise that the interests of Canada’s big media are at odds with the rest of Canada’s, or indeed, with journalism and humanities newspapers are supposed to value, examine and respect? These media conglomerates funnel the diversity of Canadian opinion into a centre-right mantra while pretending multiplicity and locality. As a result, politics in Canada (and elsewhere) become at once homogeneous and polarized. Choice without option.

So we are berated with boastful images of cheering Muslims sporting blue thumbs and subjected to the lustful urgings of Hip Hop artists and professional wrestlers inciting our youth to ‘get out the vote’ while we try to coax our mopeds into motorcycles. Admittedly, this post is littered with leftist talking points—up with proportional representation, down with corporate media, etc.—but my critical point is this: electoral politics do not equal democracy. Often these critiques are dismissed as ideological fantasy when in fact they are brutally realist. It is a far more dangerous fantasy to assume that the only kind of “action” in a democracy is exercising your voting rights. If that were the case, than Iraq under Saddam Hussein would be considered a democracy.

Here: concerted activism is as much a part of democracy as free elections. The only difference is that this kind of activism is not dead in Canada, like an outdated two-party electoral system to which progressives in Canada have acquiesced. In fact, it is this acquiescence that represents ideological fantasy—we have bought the capitalist dream that freedom starts and stops with signing an ‘X’ every four years or so and consequently, we may limit our participation in democracy to that single action. It is this gesture that is merely symbolic, without teeth, without significant consequence for leftist principles, not the just protest of those who expose such fantasy.

Until we fix our political consciousness, our broken media, our muted expectations of those in power, nothing will change. Mandatory election dates, for example, will only wallpaper voter malaise; it will do nothing to repair it. Our politicians are nothing if not capricious, subject to the whims of those that grease their pension. If we make our desires clear, untarnished by the heavy imprint of Canadian corporate media, we can effect these desires and overturn the sham that is contemporary electoral politics. As Tariq Ali said earlier this year, ‘Change is possible if the will is there’.

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1 Comment so far
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Well said! I don’t think it’s ‘we’ who limit our participation, I think ‘they’ have it set up that way. The message I got from this election was, you must not know what the political agenda is, because you will not like it.

Comment by Toe




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