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All Things Considered: May 2011


November 30, 1999
By Jim Knisley


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It’s like Christmas and Halloween combined.

Bright signs popping up on lawns across the county, hordes of people going door to door promising to trick or treat, and people waiting to open up the goodies that are to appear under the tree.

It is that seemingly almost annual event – fedfest: a month-and-a-half of fun and frolic. It’s when grown women and men let loose their childish instincts, shed their inhibitions and unleash images designed to both frighten and delight.

Some may scoff at the excesses. Some may bemoan the expense. Some may see it all as a futile exercise designed to entrap the unwary. Many will attempt to ignore it.

But, as the Borg (on Star Trek: The Next Generation) said, “resistance is futile.” The advertising, the drone of the media, the signs, the mail, the knocks on the door and, if we are lucky, the blimps, balloons and fireworks, make for an impossible to ignore spectacle.

Rather than wallow in the futility of every election seemingly producing the same result, revel in the festive spirit of it all.

How often do politicians doff their superiority complex and come cap in hand to your doorstep? How often do you get to tell them directly and straight out what you think? How often do you get to advise them that they are your representative in Ottawa rather than Ottawa’s emissary to you? It is the one time they need you and not you them.

The political parties will have their platforms. Perhaps they will focus on government finances, economics, employment and unemployment. Perhaps they will focus on moral issues like honesty or respect for democratic institutions.

Skepticism, which may be a justifiable response to political entreaties, is being increasingly replaced by cynicism among the electorate. This is perhaps justifiable. If you recall, the Conservatives ousted the Liberals by largely focusing on integrity and ethics. The Liberal campaign focused on their economic management. As Finance Minister, Paul Martin had pulled Canada from the brink, and eliminated the deficit and running budget surpluses. The voters put ethics ahead of the economic track record.

This time the Conservatives are running on the economy, and, record deficit aside, their skills as financial managers. The Liberals, meanwhile, are railing against the ethical deficiencies of the Conservatives.

The New Democrats condemn both for forgetting about the struggles of working Canadians and for the lax ethics.

The Conservatives seem to have struck a chord by saying the election is unnecessary and will cost Canadians in excess of $300 million. What seems to have been forgotten is that the G20 conference in Toronto cost more than three times that and came in at more than $1 billion not including the various and sundry court costs for charges laid against both police and protesters.

The election may also be just the little bit of additional economic stimulus the country needs. The government cost of holding the election pales in comparison to the private money the parties will spend. The money will be spent everywhere from coast to coast. Every riding will get a share.

And this spending may come at just the right time. Economic growth has been slowing in many parts of the country in recent months and the election spending may be just enough to prime the pump to get things going again.

However, increasing numbers of Canadians see neither the potential for fun and frolic nor the possibility of economic spinoffs. They are, instead, turned off by the whole process. For them healthy skepticism has been replaced by cynicism.

As a result, more than a third, and perhaps 40 per cent, of eligible voters won’t vote. One result is that a party could win the support of 25 per cent of eligible voters and form not just the government but a majority government. In some ridings the number of people who don’t vote exceeds the number who voted for the winning candidate.

Such deep cynicism may reflect the futility – “they’re all the same” – some feel. It may reflect a “plague on all their houses” mentality. Or it could be just a visceral response to all the attack ads.

There may even be some apathy involved, but increasingly, failing to vote seems to be a conscious decision among independent voters. They seem to have determined that none of the parties deserve support.

Hopefully, this election will turn that around, and politicians will see that their tactics are alienating increasing numbers of voters. Hopefully, they will try to engage the disengaged.

It is important. We have seen how important in recent weeks in Tunisia and Egypt, where people put their health, safety and lives at risk to, as peaceably as possible, bring down dictatorships and bring in democracy. As this is written people in Libya and Yemen are doing the same.

Fedfest shouldn’t be just about fun and frolic.