Dr. Dawg

Ontario election: political abstinence

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Fern Hill has an interesting but disheartening post up at DAMMIT JANET! about the increasing tendency of political candidates to cower in their basements plead “prior commitments” to avoid being seen in public during election campaigns.

She provides a link to a thoughtful analysis by Glen Pearson.

No guesses about the worst offenders: Conservatives are apparently a shy lot, unwilling as incumbents to defend their records, and equally unwilling as first-timers to defend their party’s platform. But Liberals such as Yasir Naqvi (running in Ottawa-Centre) have apparently been suffering from attacks of bashfulness as well.

The other side of this dismal equation is a shy electorate: Ontario’s last election day saw nearly half of them stay home.

Political cynicism meets voter apathy. We can speculate on the reasons until the cows return to the barn, but I think most of us would agree that democracy is in serious peril when candidates don’t speak and folks don’t vote.

One might think that voters would react to the contempt in which they are obviously being held by showing up to the polls in MASSIVE numbers to vote for politicians who treat them with respect. But the real world doesn’t work like that.

Between elections, the gulf between the electorate and their governments has never been wider.

Federally, Stephen Harper boasts about his mandate, when nearly two thirds of the country consistently vote against him. Provincially, Dalton McGuinty obtained a majority with 42% of those who bothered to show up at the polls.

Our moribund electoral system creates false majorities like that all the time: no wonder the political and corporate media establishments are so dead-set against proportional representation.

But there’s more to voter apathy than wasted votes under first-past-the-post. When politicians take them for granted, refuse to face them or engage with them, make policy in the backrooms, lie to the electors (e.g., McGuinty’s “no new taxes”), assume the worst about them (Hudak’s “foreign workers” gibe), or establish odd priorities (Horvath’s one-meter bicyclist’s bubble)—people grow ever more weary and cynical.

The new two solitudes: government and the people. What a recipe for democratic disaster.

At the very least, the public should be able to expect lively all-candidates’ debates when people are vying to represent them and allegedly be accountable to them. If E-Day is the only time that such accountability can actually be exercised, then the mass defection that we are witnessing needs to be confronted.

Fern suggests—and I second the motion—that those of us still in the game keep track of the swelling list of political no-shows at public debates during the current Ontario election, and post their names on Twitter, using the hashtags #NoShow and #VoteOn. Bloggers and grassroots political activists can take it from there.

Public shaming, hopefully followed by a crushing kick in the ballot box, seem more than appropriate for politicians showing such blatant contempt for the very people they claim to want to represent.

Let’s give new meaning to the old expression, “They can run, but they can’t hide.”

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on September 14, 2011 4:40 PM.

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