Do You Trust Your Politician?

“Experts state low voter turnout is attributable to the disproportionate Canadian political system and unreliable politicians.”







By Liam Scott, Staff Writer

“Sociopaths aren’t as uncommon as we think,” says Alex Balch, paraphrasing author Derek Jensen. “In fact, they’re some of the most successful people in the world. Like politicians.”

This is the attitude one would expect from someone like Balch who, as a member of Ontario-wide anarchist group Common Cause, refuses to participate in the upcoming federal election.

“I’m rejecting my proscribed role as a so-called good citizen to participate in a system that is inherently flawed and unfixable from within,” explains Balch.

“History is replete with examples of people who, once elected…have their values and practices changed by the system they attempted to change,” he says. “People’s voices don’t mean anything in this process.”

While they may not have acted with the same conviction, 42 per cent of eligible Canadians opted out of the democratic process in the last federal election, and it remains to be seen if the numbers will climb in the upcoming election.

“I would put money on setting a new low record this time around,” says Professor Mier Siemiatycki, who teaches politics at Ryerson University. “[Canada’s] political system is losing market share. It’s evident we have a problem.”

Canadian politicians have what Siemiatycki calls a “crisis of connection” with the voting public.

In today’s world, he says, “spirit and culture are hands-on and demand direct involvement…the indirectness of our elections doesn’t work well.”

“[Voters] don’t feel like their vote matters.”

Fellow Ryerson professor Neil Thomlinson, who is a member of Fair Vote Canada, says one of the main reasons for this is the system by which Canadian politicians are elected.

“There is absolutely a problem with our electoral system,” says Thomlinson.

Canada’s current system, often called “first past the post,” allows parties to win elections with far less than a majority, and disproportionately represents larger, established over-fringe parties.

“Our system is not perceived as being particularly legitimate,” he says, advocating a system of proportional representation or an instant runoff.

“There are a million systems better than ours.”

The problem, however, lies beyond the logistics.

“The public is both lazy and ignorant,” says Thomlinson. “[Voters] don’t have the education, and have done nothing to educate themselves [about the election.]”

As a result, he says, people “hide their ignorance behind cynicism,” creating a negative attitude towards the electoral process.

“Relentless cynicism and the ‘dumbing down’ of the Canadian electorate have turned what was supposed to be a good thing into a bad thing,” says Thomlinson.

According to Siemiatycki, Thomlinson might not be giving the Canadian electorate enough credit.

“People are turned off by their elected officials,” he says. “I don’t think they trust politicians, I don’t think they respect politicians.”

And rightfully so, says Dhruv Jain, doctoral student of Social and Political Thought at York University.

“Today, we have a Canadian government that is run and bought and basically paid for by corporations, they own our government,” he believes. “Whether it be the Tories, the Liberals, the NDP, [they are] always running to corporations and saying, ‘Is what we’re doing okay?’”

Jain is among the 42 per cent who did not vote in the last election, but is happy to see turnout so low. That is why he joined the PRAC, which is an initiative of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada that aims to, as Jain puts it, “get the 42 per cent (who didn’t vote) to mobilize in community actions.”

Balch thinks mobilizing that demographic will be a tough task.

“The hardest thing to fight,” he says, “is apathy,” which is made worse when one of the “so-called ‘progressive’” candidates wins.

“Apathy and entitlement are symptoms of a sustained high standard of living,” he explains. “We as a society have to realize we are political subjects existing in a real world, not a Disney, bubble-gum fantasy world.”

Unlike his fellow boycotter, Jain doesn’t believe that lower voter turnout is due to apathy, or even cynicism.

“I don’t think anyone is apathetic. Apathy is a myth created by people in power to tell us why the rest of us don’t do shit,” Jain says. “Every day, Canadians put money into aid organizations. That’s not apathy; they’re just saying that’s the best they can do because they aren’t feeling represented.”

Jain grew up during the communist revolution in Jakarta, Indonesia, and has travelled to Nepal and India to witness armed insurrections there, and has seen the same attitude there as he has in his Canadian travels.

“People just don’t know how to funnel their rage,” he says.

Jain points to the NDP as a clear indicator of how Canadian politicians are not representative of the electorate. He says that there are a growing number of people moving towards the left wing, while the NDP are instituting more and more right-wing policies, pointing to Layton’s promise of adding police officers to control crime.

“The problem of gangs is not because of lack of police,” he says, adding that politicians refuse to address the underlying causes of issues, like crime and poverty.

It seems clear where Canadian politics are now. The questions remain of where to go, and how to get there.

“Changing the voting system would be a good start,” says Siemiatycki, but admits that education is a “huge, huge factor.”

Thomlinson agrees, blaming the generational difference between youth and elderly voters.

“Former generations fought and died for our right to vote…not so in this generation,” he says, adding that this gap needs to be filled in high schools.

But Jain remains skeptical of any change coming from higher turnout.

“They give us the promise of fraternity, the promise of equality, the promise of liberty, but are constantly taking them away. At the same time, they are telling you ‘you are choosing this,’” he says. “We’re saying no, there is another choice, and that is for us to empower ourselves. To take power into our own hands, into our own communities, and actually make a government that is reflective of our needs.”

By Liam Scott, Staff Writer

ARB Team
Arbitrage Magazine
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