Election news is all too abundant these days. From Austria to New Zealand opinion polls, debates, election results and even occasional electoral platforms spill across print and electronic media.
Over the decades my involvement with elections has ranged from sitting on election planning committees for candidates to handing out ‘Don’t Vote. It only encourages them.” leaflets at polling stations. My views on elections change from idealist hope that the right candidate from the right movement can help change the world to seeing elections as a distraction from the hard work of building a lasting movement for social transformation—a change that can occur at any time.
In my own downtown Toronto riding it seems like the election campaign exists in some other realm. I’ve not yet seen a candidate. I’ve only seen a few candidate signs (all for Bob Rae). There is an all-candidate’s meeting coming up that I can’t attend as I’ll be busy that afternoon. There is little to emotionally connect me to the electoral process and little to connect me intellectually to the policies and priorities of any of the candidates.
One candidate’s material that I have received had an omission that bothers me more that I would have thought. The New Democratic Party was formed by a formal alliance of the Canadian Labour Congress and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. Over the years this organic link has been eroded. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that the NDP candidate for Toronto Centre has distributed election material that does not have a union bug on. While perhaps minor in the overall scheme of things, it is still very aggravating that a candidate for a party that claims a progressive heritage to not show support for the ideal of unionism, of workers have a real voice in the quality of their working life. If they won’t support unionised workplaces, what else from their heritage will be thrown over in their rush for 3rd or 4th place status? In an election time that I feel detached from, symbolic statements loom large in my decision making.
I did watch the English language Federal Leaders debate. I was pleasantly surprised by Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party. She is economically quite conservative, but did make clear statements in support of affordable housing, universal public funded health care and arts funding that I could find it in my heart to support. However, unless I misunderstood her, she did seem to be the leader most strongly committed to an ongoing Canadian presence in Afghanistan after the proposed 2012 Canadian military withdrawal date.
I am not thrilled at not being excited by the Canadian election. I don’t feel either like boycotting it or participating in it. I don’t feel like pulling votes for a candidate or critiquing a process that alienates individuals from active participation in the political life of their communities. I don’t think that this is a matter of aging, either. Rather, it seems that the Canadian federal election has no real existence. A vote wouldn’t be a statement of my support for a vision of a more peaceful, just and compassionate society; these dreams aren’t being voiced in the various campaigns. Abstaining won’t be noticed with about 1/3 of potential voters avoiding the ballot box.
It is possible that in other parts of Canada elections are topics for dinner table or workplace discussions. People may be angered enough at the closing of another factory to turn their backs completely on a process that supports capital mobility more than communal viability. Others may be doing the hard work of door to door canvassing because in their riding the race is so tight that the winner will be determined by who gets their voters out on election day.
I suspect that, ultimately, I’ll vote. Personal connection of some sort will guide my decision—at this time is most likely for Liz White (Animal Alliance—we volunteered together on a Jack Layton campaign years ago). Johan Boyden (Communist Party—his official agent, Dan Goldstick, was one of my favourite U of T professors) is a somewhat less likely choice, but still one I could make. It is easier to vote than to not vote—not a ringing endorsement of the liberal democratic process.