Our dwindling democracy

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Some who reside in the Greater Moncton area don’t give a chocolate-coated fiddlehead about the Mike Duffy affair.

According to one straw poll I conducted by cell phone between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a recent Saturday afternoon, as I careened out of town for a weekend of fun in the sun at an undisclosed Maritime location, which is, I hasten to add, not my primary residence.

I should also say that the five people I interviewed comprise a statistically meaningful sample of Canada’s voting public exactly zero times out of 20, with a plus-or-minus margin of error of precisely 100 per cent (in other words, about average for national pollsters in recent elections).

I posed only one question, providing survey respondents with the opportunity to rank their five main issues from one to five, in descending order:

“What would you say is your most pressing concern in this absurdly long, already tedious, election cycle? Is it (a) Duffygate; (b) unemployment; (c) the economy; (d) global warming and Canada’s reaction to it; and (e) the weapons-grade stupidity evinced by all but the tiniest fraction of politicians of every stripe in the soon-to-be-again Great White North?”

The results were compelling, if not especially unexpected.

All five respondents declared unequivocally that political stupidity was their most urgent worry. Comments ranged in tone and perspicuity from, “I hate them, I hate them, I hate them. . .did I mention that I hate them?” to, “you know, it’s probably not their (politicians’) fault; inbreeding causes a lot of problems elsewhere in society too.”

Coming in a close second was the economy. One respondent observed: “So, here we have in the Harper government a regime that once insisted the best thing it could do was to stay out of the private sector’s way, and yet it now runs on a platform extolling the virtues of its economic hegemony.”

Third on the hit parade of grievances was unemployment – or rather, underemployment. “I came to this province on the promise of green fields of opportunity,” said one interviewee. “I figured my advanced degree would make me a fine candidate for good-paid work in New Brunswick. Now, I drive a cab in Moncton.”

Fourth was global warming.

Assorted remarks included: “I went to a beach in New Brunswick and I almost froze my feet off”, “I went to a beach in New Brunswick and I almost had heat stroke”, “Oh. . .wait, I think I see an asteroid about to destroy all of us. . .Funny how it looks just like Mike Duffy.”

In Ottawa, far away from what matters to most people down here, the Senate moils and roils to reclaim its significance, the trials of important others proceed apace.

The world here now begins with irrelevance, marches towards false gravitas and ends in self-importance. The regions of this country do not matter; neither do the cities or towns we call home. And the Mike Duffy affair, which should concern us, simply doesn’t rise to the occasion.

We are, all of us, victims of our own distractions, our own obsessions, our own grievances. There is almost nothing left in the collective piggy bank of charity, forgiveness and grace; nothing with which to rebuild the world we so recently broke.

But should we, in our minds, with our hands and hearts so easily abandon the struggle to understand what goes horribly wrong in the National Capital Region?

To our abiding shame, we have begun to care nothing about the condition of our own democracy, with a margin of error of exactly zero.

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