Elections are important. Love elections. Elected officials are much better than that old system where if you were wealthy you could just spend a lot of money and pay your way into a… wait a second… Frankly, because I live in Canada’s first-past-the-post system my vote has never actually resulted in representation of any kind. Literally never. But I still feel the importance of the electoral process.
Canada is currently undergoing one of the longest election periods in its history, which makes it sort of neat if you like studying elections and sort of the worst if you’ve never been a fan of the circus. The lengthy campaign is a strategy on the part of the party seeking re-election to make use of new campaign finance legislation that it brought in to basically let them spend heaps more money than they were allowed to before. I also suspect it’s a strategy designed to bore us all into a state of extreme suggestibility. I think it’s working. Man, do I think it’s working.
Because even if you love politics, there’s only so much you can take of blustery politicians not answering questions about issues they pretend they might solve at some future unspecified time in a way that differs not very much from their opponents.
If I’m completely honest, I know that if I’m going to make it to the end of this campaign still caring about who comes out on top, I’m going to need ways to stay engaged. Watch leaders’ debates? Go meet candidates? No. Those methods net me nothing. I will never get that time back. I need strategies to make the endless empty fist shaking signify something real. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Make an issue of something I care about
Politicians are ironically not very good at representing people (said the writer, surprising no one). They’re good at representing parties. Part of that job is to set the agenda for an election. Each party will have issues they want to talk about, but that doesn’t mean that nobody can talk about anything else during the campaign. We have a right to pressure candidates to define their viewpoints on things we care about. We can influence the course of an election by telling politicians what their platforms are missing. I want politicians to talk about Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women. If enough other people also want that, we can make it an issue that candidates have to take account of.
Go to the source
No politician has ever had any answers to anything. They have speeches and planned responses, but they did not write them. They have ideas, but they did not come up with them. They are figureheads. So why should someone expect them to explain the ins and outs of a party’s policies? Unless that someone was really sadistic or something and liked watching people out of their depth squirm uncomfortably and evade pinning down the exact proportion of their ignorance. If I want information about a party’s plans, a candidate probably cannot really help me. But their staff likely can. Especially the ones who have been working election after election. It’s classic capitalism—if you want to know what’s going on in a company, you don’t ask the CEO, ask the people doing the work. So when I really want to know something beyond a prepared statement, I’m going to call headquarters.
Ask for something specific
It’s not worth our time to listen to how a party is going to single-handedly save us from the Gordian knot of climate change. Every party swears they’ll improve the environment. Jobs. Health care. These are not issues. These are topic areas made vacuous by their breadth. Politicians cannot effect change on an abstract level. They often can’t effect change on the mortal plane, either, because many of the factors that contribute to social/ environmental problems lie so completely outside of government control. Politicians can’t keep promises to “fix” the economy because of course they can’t.
But they could, maybe, if pressed unrelentingly, take a position on a specific proposal for a single action that lies within the candidate’s power to accomplish and could realistically be followed through with after election. If I ask for that from each party in my riding, that makes us all accountable: the winner to actually perform the task, and me to keep after them to keep their promise until it’s done.
Make independent and non-mainstream candidates visible
In each election it sounds like there are only two or three disheartening political choices. There are actually many many many more political choices, but those candidates don’t have the money to keep themselves in the public spotlight. Which is a shame because there are probably hundreds of interesting, thoughtful, out-of-the-box ideas that are going unheard. Every candidate should be included in debates and their campaign efforts followed in local media. Even the far-out ones. I know some parties sound crazy, but if we don’t hear everybody out, our political options will be narrowed before we even realize we have them. If I insisted that debate organizers include every candidate and media outlets update us on their activities, I’m 100 percent sure I would hear something more than politics as usual.
That might keep me invested in the outcome. I’d be super happy to hear what might keep you invested. Drop a suggestion below.