Are we becoming a nation of political quitters?


It is entirely possible, if stunningly depressing, that mainstream politicians in Canada are finally listening to those they purport to represent: the disenfranchised us.

For years, the disenfranchised us have spoken from all points on the political spectrum about the fundamental corruption of ideas sacrificed at the altar of partisanship; about the seedy incompetence that infects all levels of elective office; about the unseemly horse-trading of democratic principles between ancient interests that masquerades as fair, just and equal representation.

For years, the disenfranchised us have voted with our voices and our feet: Loudly decrying the steady perversion of a system that no longer appears to be built for us and steadfastly withholding our mandates at the ballot boxes by refusing to participate in a process we consider rooked and ruined.

Now, many who have thrown their hats into the political arena in recent years are scooping up their dusty, battered head-toppers and loping home in rueful agreement with the great unwashed they all-too-often ignored.

Some quietly.

Some, not so much.

“Looking back, I, like so many people, got into politics thinking I knew a lot,” Graham Steele, Nova Scotia’s former NDP finance minister in the defeated Darrell Dexter government, told the Globe and Mail’s Jane Taber last fall.

“What I knew a fair bit about was public policy – and what it takes you a long time to learn is how public policy gets twisted and distorted and eventually you get taken over by the desire to win, to be re-elected.”

Taber’s interview coincided with the release of Steele’s memoir, What I Learned about Politics, and her excerpts from that work were as equally revealing as was her intrepid report of the man’s late-season remorse and regret:

“There was hardly any point to who sat in my chair or who was on which side of the House. None of us was dealing with the real issues. There was no fundamental difference between us. . .Like the sex drive among primates, the drive to be re-elected drives everything a politician does. . .Spend as little time as possible at the legislature. There are no voters there, so any time spent is wasted.”

What’s more, he writes, “Keep it simple. Policy debates are for losers. Focus on what is most likely to sink in with a distracted electorate: slogans, scandals, personalities, pictures, image. Find whatever works, then repeat it relentlessly. . .Fight hard to take credit, fight harder to avoid blame.”

Finally, “Deny that these are the Rules of the Game.”

The irony, of course, is that none of these tactics actually calibrate to enhance voter confidence in the political process or in public institutions. And, so, they amount to an elaborate shell game elected representatives kid themselves into believing is winnable. The electorate knows better, but without a valid alternative, it, too, plays along; the losing streak broadens and becomes structural.

After all, if everyone’s a sucker, isn’t everyone a winner?

Today, the political horizon is brimming not with losers or winners or even suckers; but with quitters.

A recent report from the Conference Board of Canada observes that “Canada scores a ‘C’ and ranks 14th out of 17 peer countries (in terms of voter turnout). Only 53.8 per cent of adult Canadians voted in the 2011 federal election – the second-lowest (showing) in history. The decline in voter turnout in Canada may be due to lower participation of young people.”

No kidding, Sherlock.

Meanwhile, the Board perseveres: “A. . .study for Elections Canada noted the decline in voter turnout in recent elections is mainly due to lower participation of young people, and that ‘it is part of a demographic trend that shows every sign of continuing well into the future.’ In 2011, only 38.8 per cent of the population aged 18 to 24 voted.”

Under these circumstances, should there be any great wonder that the negative feedback loop between electoral confidence and elected representation continues to spiral downwards?

There goes Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale. Farewell Wildrose Danielle Smith in Alberta. Who takes over from Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz? No one in his caucus; that’s for certain.

We, the disenfranchised us, finally salute you – for you have finally become us.

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