Friday, 02 March 2012 20:57

Why politics is failing us

 

In my lifetime I have been left, centre and right in my political beliefs – in that order. But the state of Canadian politics, and indeed the world political stage, today makes me question the very foundation of those beliefs.

It seems that in this country, at least, we have moved away from the basic tenets of democracy, which sees informed and engaged voters elect politicians to represent them – men and women who go about their business with the needs and wishes of their constituents in mind. In a real democracy, we can rest assured that the business of the nation/province/municipality is being conducted with transparent decorum and honest intentions, with the interests of the electorate held to be paramount. In a true democracy, even political opponents treat each other with due respect as they are all in office because their constituents elected them.

But that no longer is the case. Instead, our politicians, with some exceptions to be sure, spend their time name-calling that would embarrass a kindergarten class and doing their best to ensure that they (a) move to the next rung on the political ladder in order to satisfy their personal ambitions; and/or (b) survive long enough to be entitled to a full pension at the taxpayers’ expense. Along the way they hop gleefully into bed with whatever special interest lobby seems likely to further the ends of (a) and/or (b) above. No longer do they represent the voters; they represent their own self-interest and the almighty party system, which dictates that regardless of what the constituents need and desire, votes will follow party lines at the expenses of all else.

The chasm between politicians and the voters they represent grows daily. Consider the crowing done by elected politicians of every stripe in the days following their election to office. In those heady days they trumpet the wisdom of the voters who were smart enough to see through their nefarious opponents and thus elect the good guys. Amazing how quickly that oh-so-smart electorate becomes unable to fathom the realities of government, the real issues at stake, and thus the voters (it usually takes about 90 days) no longer are consulted or even heard because apparently they have become stupid.

Think about it: When was the last time an MP or MLA held a town hall meeting just to hear what concerns their constituents? No, we have to make an appointment, one at a time, and go see them in their offices, where they control the environment. If they truly want to know what people think, why not invite them to the occasional public meeting, sit and listen without being defensive? Could it be they fear what they might hear? And look at municipal governments…while somewhat better, they still only tend to have public meetings required by law, such as at budget time. Local politicians should be easy to find – they’re based in the community, after all - but instead many rarely are seen in public places such as grocery stores or coffee shops once elected, unless it’s at an ‘official’ function. It’s as though they view public input as an unnecessary distraction.

Frankly I am sick to death of politicians who assume they know more, are somehow better, than the very people who put them into office. Politicians who assume that the letters ‘MP’, ‘MLA’, ‘Mayor’, ‘Chair’, ‘Councillor’ or ‘Director’ attached to their names somehow gives them the right to ignore the law, bend the law, break the rules and otherwise flout the very authority given them by the people they’re sworn to represent. They tout ‘accountability’ and then do their best to avoid it.

We are all, perhaps, somewhat guilty in this. The public first puts these politicos on a pedestal and then tears them down at every opportunity, forgetting, perhaps, as the politicians seem to do also, that these are just men and women, no better or worse than the rest of us. If we assume they are always wrong, we do them a disservice. If we assume they’re always right - and thus pay no attention - then we do ourselves a disservice. In the end, we have the right to expect and demand good service from our elected officials. But in many/most cases we aren’t getting it.

To some large degree I believe the party system is at fault. We should be voting for the person, not the party. I will vote for the man or woman who will represent the interests of constituents before the party. I will vote for the person who listens to the voters, the person who admits mistakes and tries to learn from them. Isn’t that what we all try to do in life? Learn from our mistakes?

Am I disillusioned with politics? No, just with self-serving politicians. Am I returning to the left where I started? Who knows? But if I do, it will be with a better understanding gained from years of sampling the good, the bad and the ugly of the political process. And it will be with the hope that the public can obtain the accountable representation it deserves from all levels of government.

- Bruce Lantz 

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