Category Archives: Sunday Series – To Vote or Not to Vote?

Vote if you must, but set yourself some standards and don’t settle!

This is the final entry in a series on the question of voting and whether it’s a worthwhile exercise. Parts one, two, three, four, five, and six 

It’s the summer election campaign that nobody wanted and everybody’s going to get subjected to.

This morning, our Fearless Leader visited the Governor-General to ask for the Queen’s permission to dissolve Parliament, which of course he got, the whole ridiculous monarchistic ritual being a meaningless and banal anachronism that gets right under my skin but which isn’t the subject of this post and which therefore I’m going to tie to a balloon and let go.

*Deep breath*

Harper didn’t get to make the triumphant declaration he’d been hoping for today, as TPP talks broke down badly over the weekend. He’d planned on launching the campaign by boasting about how he’d signed Canada on to the “biggest trade deal in history”, but instead trade envoys left Hawaii with little more than some upbeat spin – and no date set for the next round of talks. Rumour has it they won’t meet again until at least November, setting this up to be a campaign issue, which is actually so exciting for me.

Instead, the campaign immediately devolved into an argument about money, which is probably the worst and most crass kind of argument there is. Harper’s claims that the new form of campaign financing instituted by his party’s widely panned “Fair” Elections Act mean that parties, not taxpayers, will be on the hook for election expenses – a statement which, as Elizabeth May quickly pointed out, is a blatant falsehood. The former Chief Electoral Officer for Elections Canada estimated that the extra costs to taxpayers would run in the tens of millions.

These extra costs are being incurred, of course, because the election campaign we’re staring down is set to be the longest in nearly a century. And that only happened because Harper thought it would be to his advantage, because a longer campaign means he can spend more money – an extra $675 000/day. As the Globe and Mail put it, “If the election can be bought, the Tories will win easily.”

Fortunately, there are other factors at play here, including a strong and earnest desire on the part of many many Canadians for change in government. And for what it’s worth, The Alfalfafield’s official long-range prediction, from eleven weeks out, is a narrow NDP majority, a massive collapse in Liberal support, and an election-night resignation from Stephen Harper. (This will be followed by four years of resigned disappointment on the part of long-standing and principled Dippers, who aren’t much going to like the spectre of an NDP government.)

The question we’ve been considering in this space for the past six weeks is whether or not this whole election drama matters, and it’s fitting that our series concludes as the election opens. For some context, let’s return to the problem as it was posed in our initial entry: Continue Reading

“Fringe” parties and the Overton Window

This is the latest in an ongoing (and soon-to-be-concluded) weekly series on the question of voting and whether it’s worthwhile. You can read the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth entries if yer interested.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve looked at several reasons why voting is not a meaningful or useful activity most of the time. A lot of these reasons have boiled down to one of a few issues: namely, our dysfunctional party system and the strong influence of capital over our governments.

At the outset, I considered the fact that none of the parties likely to win this fall’s election intend to address the fundamental issues and injustices of our time, from climate change to systemic racism to imperial warmongering, and I posed the question, “Does it really matter who wins?” If all we’re going to get is different shades of bad (from not-completely-terrible orange to holy-hell-this-is-awful blue to a-kinder-gentler-but-not-meaningfully-differently-awful red), then what’s the purpose in engaging in the whole exercise?

From there, I explored the dynamics of lesser-evil-ism, and how strategic voting consistently plays to the interests of capital by helping to elect parties which are willing to sell out their principles for votes (and which demonstrate when in power that they’re also willing to sell out their principles for dollars). Continue Reading

Getting Obama’d, or, how we fool ourselves into thinking politicians are on our side

This is the latest in an ongoing series on the question of whether voting is a worthwhile exercise. If you’re interested, you can read parts one, two, three, and four.

This week’s entry is going to be the ultimate in “dog bites man” journalism, but it’s also a point well worth making loudly and repeatedly: politicians lie.

Politicians lie, and they mislead, and they inculcate false impressions. Politicians demonize their opponents and exalt their own parties, regardless of whether this demonization or exaltation is deserved. Politicians promise something for everybody, they promise prosperity, they promise responsibility, they promise that they will stand up for you. And then they proceed to help out the wealthy and ignore their promises.

This has been the pattern since time immemorial. That it isn’t always true isn’t ultimately that relevant. It’s true often enough that politicians have a well-deserved reputation as untrustworthy. A poll conducted by the Gandalf Group last year found that only 13% of Canadians “trusted politicians to behave ethically in fulfilling their duties.” The findings shocked the polling company’s director, David Herle, who had just months before successfully managed Kathleen Wynne’s campaign for premier of Ontario.

“After over 20 years in opinion research, it comes as no surprise that politics is not the most respected profession, but the findings of this survey with respect to the extent of the cynicism is shocking,” said Herle.

“The gap between politicians and others in public life, the extent to which our politics is believed to be inherently corrupting, and the frequency with which private interests are assumed to trump the public interest are all corrosive to democracy.”

Of course, Wynne’s premiership is a prime example of why most Canadians are cynical about politicians. As I wrote in an earlier post in this series, “Strategic voting and how it helps the capitalists win“: Continue Reading

The party system is undemocratic – here’s why

(This is the latest in an ongoing series on the question of whether voting is worthwhile. If you’re interested, here’s parts one, two, and three.)

Political parties are such a firmly entrenched part of our political system that it’s almost absurd to suggest, but I’ll suggest it – what the hell good do they do anyway?

Here’s the situation as it stands. Every four years or so, in your city or town or rural area, three or four wannabe politicians, having gained the approval of their party’s local riding association and (most importantly) of their party leader, swear absolute fealty to an incredibly detailed party platform and contend for your vote. If elected, they hew to that party line absolutely, speak when they’re told to (which is rarely), vote how they’re told to, espouse the views their leader tells them to hold, and occasionally come back to your city/town/rural area and get their picture in the paper saying that they’re standing up for your interests in Ottawa.

And that’s true regardless of the party they represent.

The majority of MPs are irrelevant to the process of governing this country. The government needs its MPs to show up for votes (and vote the way they’re told), but other than that, the majority of the caucus may as well be composed of mannequins:

W.S. Gilbert put the present Canadian political reality succinctly; “I always voted at my party’s call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all”. Canadian members of Parliament are essentially passive observers in the formulation and administration of most national policy. Indeed, Sean Moore, editor of the Ottawa lobbyist magazine, The Lobby Digest, told a committee of MPs in early 1993 that they are rarely lobbied by the almost 3,000 reported lobbyists in the capital because “elected officials play a very minor role in governing”.

Continue Reading

Electoral reform and the inadequacy of proportional representation

(This is the third in an ongoing series on the question of voting. See part one and part two if you’re interested.)

Now let me just start off by saying loudly and clearly that I’m in favour of proportional representation.

If we’re going to have a representative democracy – or even pretend that we do – then it’s long past time that we switched to an electoral system which yields results which reflect the actual vote totals. The obviousness of this proposition makes it hard to believe that this policy has never been enacted, especially since all of the major parties in this country have been on the losing side of an unfair election result at some point or another.

The introduction of a more democratic method of allocating the seats in Parliament would go some way towards alleviating the tendency of parties with a shot at winning government to abandon all principle and run toward the perceived “centre” that I discussed last week, and would no doubt encourage people who support marginal parties and parties unlikely to win their riding from voting anyway.

All of this is good.

But.

(You knew there was gonna be a “but”, right?) Continue Reading

Strategic voting and how it helps the capitalists win

This is the second in an ongoing series on the question of voting. You can read last week’s piece here.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard pundits and Liberals loudly claim that I’d be “throwing my vote away” by voting for a “fringe” party, like the Greens or the Marijuana Party or even the NDP. My vote would amount to little more than a meaningless gesture, they say, and a counterproductive one at that, as it would make it more likely that some nasty backwards-thinking poor-bashing homo-hating war-mongering arch-conservative demon would split the left vote and squeak into power. (The implications of the fact that the Conservative Party has a seemingly limitless supply of these baddies is a topic I’ll get into in more detail below)

And so, in election after election, people who would much rather be voting for a party and platform they could wholeheartedly endorse (assuming they can find one!) find themselves reluctantly voting Liberal. We saw it as recently as last fall here in Ontario, when the cretinous (and possibly creationist) Tim Hudak scared the socialist shit out of enough Dippers to give Kathleen Wynne a completely undeserved majority.

So there must be some gleeful schadenfreude in the NDP these days, as they find that the traditional roles have suddenly and completely flipped, and now it is Liberal voters who are being exhorted by the anybody-but-Harper crowd that they must fall in line and vote Orange. Continue Reading

Does it really matter who wins this fall’s election?

This Parliament has risen, never to sit again in its current configuration. It’s entirely possible that Stephen Harper has had his last day in the House of Commons, with a string of polls showing the NDP surging into the lead nationally. And it’s the first day of summer, and it’s a beautiful day. Life is good, right?

And here I am sitting here, inside, agonizing over what to do on election day this fall.

See here’s the thing. I’ve got a dilemma. I fancy myself to be a radical (on which more later). And one of the ways that radicalness manifests itself is in me steadfastly refusing to vote. Figuring the electoral system to be a rigged game run by the wealthy elite to distract the masses from who controls the true levers of power, abetted by a captured media which reenforces the whole scheme by granting coverage and legitimacy only to those parties and platforms which exist within a spectrum acceptable to the capitalist class, rendering the possibility of transformative change through electoral politics effectively impossible, I have typically opted for “none of the above” in the past.

I’ve not voted, and I’ve spoiled my ballot, and once I voted for an actual party called the None of the Above Party. Last fall, terrified by the possibility of “Ford More Years”, I held my nose and voted for Olivia Chow as the least bad electable option in Toronto’s municipal election, for all the good that did, and let me tell you, it did nothing to encourage me to vote again. (My partner couldn’t stomach the notion and bailed at literally the last minute, leaving a confused elections official holding an unmarked ballot.)

But this year I’m thinking about voting. Continue Reading

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