Dumb-Mockracy In Action

25 Mar

I got my first exposure to Canadian politics two days after I arrived here, when I saw a news report about an attack on the then Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. A man claiming to represent victimized people in Canadian society broke security ranks and hit Chretien in the face – with a pie. I wasn’t too clear on what message this action was supposed to convey. Did the pie represent something? Was this an example of the Canadian reputation for politeness (“Sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, but I really don’t agree with the way you are running the country, but I’m way too nice to actually hurt you, so here’s a pie instead.”)

Having grown up in South Africa during the last days and the ultimate fall of Apartheid, and having been present at such auspicious occasions as the release of Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s first democratic election, I was used to political volatility. But still, I found the whole pie thing distinctly… odd.

Since living here, I have always found Canadian politics to be somewhat tame and boring. I do not mean that in a negative way. Tame and boring is good. It means that you are dealing with issues like employment, the economy, healthcare – the kind of stuff that governments should worry about on a day-to-day basis. You are not having to spend all of your time thinking about international sanctions that are completely choking your country, a crime rate so high that a murder barely gets a mention in the middle pages of a community newspaper, a police force that is so badly paid that officers resort to taking financial bribes just to make ends meet (not that I’m justifying bribery and corruption, but c’mon, if you’re expecting someone to risk their life, at least pay them a living wage), and many other crisis points that governments should only have to think about once in a blue moon.

By the time I had been here for three years or so, I had developed a theory. It goes like this:
Theory: Politicians have to argue, even if they don’t have anything to argue about. 
Corollary: A great way to really add to the excitement is by bringing down the government and holding a federal election.

After Jean Chretien decided to call it quits ( can’t blame him – the dude was getting a bit long in the tooth, chronologically speaking), he passed the reins to Paul Martin. When election time rolled around the following year, Paul Martin held onto his post but only won a minority government. This meant that at any time, the opposition parties could band together and pass a motion of no-confidence, triggering an election. This is exactly what happened, which is how we wound up with Stephen Harper, the current Head Honcho.

Stephen Harper won a minority government as well. Two years later the opposition parties brought down his government, but he kept his Prime Minister seat in the resulting election (another minority government).

Two years after that, the opposition parties brought down his government again, but he kept his Prime Minister seat in the resulting election (and another minority government).

Now, about three years later, Stephen Harper’s government is on the verge of falling yet again. On this very afternoon, the opposition parties are almost certainly going to defeat the government on the basis of the federal budget, and an election will be held in the Spring.

The only difference (from my perspective anyway) between this occasion and the previous ones is that this time, I will get to vote and thereby earn the right to complain. I have a long-held belief that people do not have any place complaining about a government if they were not bothered to go out and put an “X” on a piece of cardboard. This time, however, I will be eligible to vote.

Which of course means that I will have to decide who to vote for.

For the benefit of those living outside of Canada, I should explain that Canadians do not actually vote directly for the Prime Minister. They vote for a local Member of Parliament (MP), who is usually affiliated with one of the major political parties. The head of the party that winds up with the most MP’s gets to be the Prime Minister.

In an ideal world, this would work fine. In an ideal world, you just know that the MP’s of a political party are united in what they stand for.

In the real world, however, this system of voting can pose quite a dilemma.

Here’s the scenario: You really, really like the guy who’s running locally for your preferred political party. You feel that he has a keen grasp of the issues that are important, and you believe that he will represent your best interests at federal level. However, you cannot stand the head of that political party. You would rather set your face on fire than have him as Prime Minister. You don’t trust him and you believe that the only thing he cares about is his own personal agenda.

On the other hand, the MP candidate for the other political party, the party you would not normally support, is not someone you would typically vote for. But the head of that political party would, you believe, make a better Prime Minister than his opponent. He may not represent all of your beliefs, and he may not have the same priorities you might like, but you think that he does at least have some integrity. You think that he has Canadian interests at heart, whereas the other guy absolutely doesn’t.

So how do you cast your ballot? Do you vote for the local guy you like, knowing that this would also represent a vote for someone you cannot stand? Or do you vote for the other guy in support of your preferred Prime Ministerial candidate, knowing that you are also voting for an MP who does not represent your priorities and beliefs?

Update: breaking news is that the Canadian government has indeed been defeated on a no-confidence motion. A federal election will be held in May.
Disclaimer: the hypothetical scenarios described above are not a statement of actual circumstances, nor are they a reflection of my political leanings. They are hypothetical questions only.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kahtava/241834777)

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