shut up and vote

During my first year or so in Canada, I was repeatedly mystified by hearing, over and over, how the populace did not want an election. We don't want a Christmas election, we're too busy with the holidays. We don't want a summer election, we're all at the cottage. We don't want a winter election, it's too cold to go out and vote. We don't want another election, we just had one 18 months ago.

For the life of me, I could not understand it. I once asked readers what this meant. Were people really so busy with Christmas plans that they couldn't spare a few minutes to vote?

Readers told me, no, that wasn't it. It's that their minds are elsewhere. They don't want their family celebrations interrupted. They are out of the country, in warmer climes. They will punish the party that calls an unnecessary election. (If only that had happened in 2008!) They cannot focus on the important issues at hand, can't study their ballots and decide who to vote for. (You can see the answers on this old post.)

The answers did nothing to clarify the issue for me.

You know where you stand on various issues, right? Which party comes the closest to your point of view? Vote for them. No?

It took me a while to realize that Canadians complain about elections. Period. It doesn't matter when they happen or why. Canadians and the media that purport to reflect their views whine about elections. I still don't know why, but I no longer attempt to figure it out.

A corollary to this are the Liberal partisans who defend their party's spinelessness and lack of principles by declaring that an election is unnecessary "at this time". Whenever I would cry out in frustration over Dion or Ignatieff playing coalition partner to the Harper Conservatives, inevitably, a Liberal blogger would stop by to deliver the familiar refrain: "There's no point in having an election just for the sake of an election. It's not the right time. When it's the right time, the Liberals will bring down the Government."

But three crucial words were always omitted. "When it's the right time for the Liberals."

I liked Rick Salutin's take, especially regarding the media's complicity and the transparent hypocrisy of "making Parliament work".

Come on, Canadians. Just shut up and vote.
Suck it up, Canada: What are we – shoppers or citizens? A portion of each, I suppose. But it's fatal to confuse the roles, as seems to be happening with all the whinging and whining over "another" election that "nobody" wants.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the first to moan in, right after Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced his intention to pull the plug on the Conservatives' minority government. Iggy had a list of plausible enough reasons that would more likely lead you to ask him Why did you wait so long? than What for? The PM's response was that he hasn't met "a single Canadian" who wants an election, which may only reveal the limited range of his contacts.

Yet many in the news media echoed it. I think at random of Suhana Meharchand on CBC Radio's phone-in last Sunday, chortling over the silliness of another election. I may have gone humourless, but I don't really get it.

In a vital democracy, like ancient Athens or the Iroquois confederacy, people were involved in politics continually. Under our system, politics more or less equals elections, so you could call frequent elections our form of participatory democracy. It keeps citizens engaged and parties on their toes. Under a stable majority, everyone goes to sleep for four years. Do you think we'd have had even the minimal action we've seen from Mr. Harper on the economy or on withdrawal from Afghanistan if he'd had a majority?

But everything turns upside down if you treat politics as a shopping trip – I don't waaant an election – rather than the ongoing duty of each citizen. It's like newscasters saying, "Thanks for watching," as if we tune in to do them a favour, rather than from our need as citizens to be informed. Citizenship isn't a consumer choice that you may or may not make. People can opt out of it, but then they lose the right to complain, and it's a mingy choice to make if you think of kids and others affected by actions taken in the name of us all.

Besides, if these whiners really don't want an election and prefer Parliament "to work," why did so many of them object to a coalition last winter? It was the very definition of making Parliament work in a minority situation. I don't think minority governments are inherently unstable; I'd call them inherently alert. The current one has indeed been unstable since it's so distant from the majority of members in the House and voters in the country. But, say, a Liberal minority could well find enough common ground with the Bloc and NDP to enact many things that most citizens would value.

It's the snickering and eye-rolling among media opiners that I find most offensive, as if their stance is so sophisticated. In fact, they function as dupes for a rotten status quo, helping to keep power in the hands of those who can afford to pay for it by getting others, like the party bosses, to fulfill their wishes. There is wreckage to be dealt with out there, lives are still being destroyed, although the recession is supposed to be all but over. My little strip of College Street in Toronto now has a solid row of abandoned small businesses such as we've not seen in previous crises. It's become a street of broken dreams. Add the fact that voting numbers are declining, which the pseudo-wit of the moaners tends to glamorize. The downward trend reduces the constituencies to which politicians must attend, and ratchets up the electoral clout of the resolute pressure groups, such as evangelicals and gun owners.

If there is a problem with another election, it's that voting is all we're ever offered to satisfy our political impulses, and it is a repetitive and intrinsically shallow exercise. But this implies that we should vote for those ready to expand the arena of democratic participation so that we need not shoehorn the entire human political drive into the narrowness of elections.

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