A Bitter Victory

May 3, 2011

He was not answering his phone. Rain or shine, day or night, while sitting on the toilet conducting his daily constitutional, he answered his phone. So this was unusual.

It’s not like the evening had been a total failure. Yes, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives seized the majority that had hung so tantalizingly close before their eyes just out of reach for the past 5 years. If you have any attachment to the notion of the positive role government plays in our lives, no good can come from last night’s results.

And being what my friend Donald calls an ‘unreconstructed Pierre Trudeau Liberal’, the party of my youth is not even the official opposition any longer. It is just officially in tatters. No one’s going to be talking about the ‘Liberal brand’ anymore without giggling mournfully.

Yet the NDP had scaled historic heights. A second place finish seemed to be merely empty boasting as recently as two weeks ago. By the end of last evening, however, the NDP were les rois du Quebec, nearly obliterating the Bloc in one fell swoop. For that, federalists of whatever stripe should be grateful. The party also managed to hold seats elsewhere and mounted their own assault on Fortress Liberal in downtown Toronto, taking out a few Liberal incumbents in the process.

So for that alone, I expected at least a modicum of ebullience from my colleague, the NDPisty of all of us. But he wouldn’t even pick up his phone. From past experience, I knew this to be a bad sign.

When I arrived at the office, the door was slightly ajar. I knocked. No answer. Popping my head into the darkened room except for the glow coming of the computer screen, I spotted the silhouette of Cityslikr, sitting at the desk. With a “yoo-hoo!” I made my presence known but still received no response. My rational side told me he was just lost in deep thought but part of me wondered, well, I’d seen too many movies with scenes just like this. A corpse still sitting upright, waiting to fall over at the slightest touch. It wasn’t like the man didn’t have a short list of people who’d vowed to kill him at some point of time or other.

I slowly but noisily approached him, still eliciting no reaction. The first thing I noticed was the half full (yes, I remain the optimist even in the darkest of times) bottle of Woodford Reserve. OK. So maybe he’d drunk himself into a joyful stupor. I mean, the Orange Wave had taken 100 seats after all. Conservative majority be damned. It was still an impressive feat.

Then I spotted the opened pill bottle. Picking it up from the desk with still no acknowledgement from Cityslikr, I checked out the label. Lorazepam. Oh oh. I leaned in for a closer look. His eyes were open but just staring ahead at the computer screen. Giving him a gentle nudge, I asked how many of the pills he’d had.

It wasn’t clear if he’d heard me as the question seemed to make no impression. The only sign of life Cityslikr exhibited was the slow blinking of his eyes, randomly and not always in unision. I began wondering if a call to 9-1-1 might not be in order. And then he spoke.

“Not nearly enough,” he said. “I was thinking of trying to sleep for the next 4 and a half years.” He continued to look at the computer screen. I followed his glance to see what, if anything, had so focused his attention. Sentences blinked on the screen in front of him.

In the end, we send our words and ideas into the void, Mafingo.

(Mafingo?)

 Into the fucking void to die a neglected death. Nothing to be done. Nothing to be done.

Yep. Our fearless leader had slipped into the dark recesses of a Beckettian induced coma. Clearly this was not the time for upbeat words and thoughts. He was nowhere near ready for that. Now we simply mourn. And how better to do that than a slug of some silky smooth bourbon to wash down the warm, pillowy embrace of a benzodiazepine? Warning: Do not drink alcohol while taking benzodiazepine. This medication can increase the effects of alcohol. Exactly.You know, it’s not the majority government that’s so hard to swallow although, it is a big, big, bitter, bitter pill for sure. Nor is it the collapse of Liberal support that’s dismaying. While much will be made of the vote splitting that gave the Conservatives many unintentional seats especially in Toronto and the GTA, I curiously await the numbers to see how many of those were caused by natural occurring left of centre, NDP-Liberal splits and those caused by rightist Liberals jumping aboard the good ship Conservative to try and stem the Orange Wave. Perhaps Liberals needed to purge their party of those types anyway. It’s just an ugly way to do it for the rest of us.

No, for me the really disheartening aspect of Monday’s election is the total lack of imagination and nerve on the part of voters who cast their ballot with the Conservatives out of fear and desire for stability. They bought into the dubious notion that parliamentary democracies can only function properly with one party in a majority position to make all the decisions. Here you go. Do your worst. And we’ll tune in again in 4 years time, see how you’re doing.

We had a golden opportunity by electing a third straight minority government (in whatever makeup) to truly change the political landscape of this country. To make it known to all the parties that this is what we wanted. We wanted compromise. We wanted consensus. So instead of working to undermine a minority parliament, all parties would have to properly deal with that new reality and perhaps put their own interests aside for those of the country.

Instead, we rewarded those who did everything in their power to discredit the idea of a workable minority government with unfettered access to the levers of federal power. Actually, fewer than two in five voters rewarded the Conservatives for their parliamentary treachery, somehow feeling that they’ve restored the natural order of things where one party garnering less than 40% of the popular vote gets to play with all the marbles. A skewed stability that disenfranchises 60% of the electorate. But no matter. We won’t have to bother to vote again for over 4 years!

This type of Conservative victory has set back voting reform at the federal level for another 5 years at least. Why would a majority government want to reform a system that benefited them greatly? While seat numbers weren’t far off their popular vote, the NDP may be likewise loathe to bring up the subject with the majority of their seats now in Quebec, a province that could see their political influence dwindle somewhat under a more proportionally representative system. Only the Liberals and the Green Party are left to carry that banner but their impact on the next parliament will be minimal.

In its place, the talk will be of uniting the centre left at least between the NDP and Liberals, and disfiguring our political landscape even further into an entirely contrived two party, left v. right, scenario. It’s just simpler that way, I guess. Because if there’s one take away lesson from the election campaign this time around it’s that voters are uncomfortable with complexity. It’s too difficult to follow and takes up too much of their time. Politics, as in any game, needs a clear-cut winner and a bunch of losers.I won’t always feel this way. Nor will my colleague, Cityslikr. We will bounce back. But for a few days anyway we seek to dull the pain of our ever growing misanthropy in a pleasant, totally legal, narcotic haze, telling our woes to our new best friend, Mafingo.

ativanly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Squeezing Discourse At The Debate Level

April 1, 2011

I won’t lie. When I came across a Tweet that read: Pg 41. RT @kady: Btw, given the May kerfuffle, an interesting paper on electoral debate reform (warning: PDF): http://bit.ly/fF1s7A #elxn41 from @garryoakgirl I understood it as ‘an interesting paper on electoral reform’. What with being the resident expert on electoral reform and all that. Imagine my disappointment when I went to all the trouble of downloading it, and sat to read it with red pen and highlighter in hand only to discover it was in fact a 60-odd page report written by Michelle Rogers at Queen’s University’s Centre For The Study of Democracy on ‘electoral debate reform’.

Oh man, what a waste of paper and toner! Debates are debates, right? I’m all about the electoral reform, the complete package. Full on proportional representation, etc., etc.

Yeah well, I defy anyone to take a look at Ms. Rogers’ report and not have their blood boiling by page 23. One might draw a line, if one were so inclined and had a writing utensil and straight edge, between our lack of truly representational government and our lack of democratic leaders debates. It might be a bit of a stretch but I don’t think it unreasonable to suggest that stifling wider debate on the campaign trail leads to a narrower discussion of issues after the election. If we don’t hear all the voices out there asking for our votes, how can we make an informed decision when casting our ballots? And if we don’t make an informed decision when casting our ballots, how can we get truly representative government?

And how do I make a seamless transition from the above paragraph to my overview of the report? Let’s pretend I just did.

In televised debates, there are 3 interests to be served. The party/candidate whose main concern is being represented fairly and delivering an appealing, compelling persona that will increase voters’ positive perception of them and the likelihood of securing their vote. There’s the media who want good television, must see TV. And finally, the public.

All three coming together in the hopes of heightened public awareness and engagement in the political process.

And yet… and yet, the numbers in terms of voter turnout suggest that’s not happening. Was it something we said? Apathy and cynicism rather then engagement reigns.

Perhaps it’s because in the triumvirate of interests that constitute televised debates, the public is pretty well an afterthought. The logistics of electoral debates – the whens, wheres, the whos, the how manys — are ironed out far from the voters’ view, behind closed doors between what is called the Broadcast Consortium and representatives of the parties. The parties, of course, said Broadcast Consortium deems worthy of inclusion. Two of the three stakeholders, to use the parlance of our times, in the debates process decide on everything while the third gets to watch the result on TV. Maybe we’ll let you ask a question or two, heavily vetted naturally.

How does that arrangement foster democracy and participation? As we witnessed last year during Toronto’s mayoral campaign, television networks arbitrarily and summarily determined who were to be considered viable or serious candidates with little reasoning beyond, well, we’ve heard of them before or somebody who’s somebody has heard of them before. From the very beginning. There was no winnowing down along the way. No clicking the refresh button to incorporate any changes on the campaign landscape. Probably because the only changes that happened happened within the bubble of contenders the media created from the outset. It was all self-fulfilling because it’s designed to be self-fulfilling.

Other countries have independent, non-partisan bodies in place to deal with political debates. A cross section of the public that isn’t made up entirely of network executives and backroom politicos. The intention is to designate a group to make decisions based on what’s best for all parties involved, politicians, media and voters, not just the most powerful of the three.

Such a body was suggested way back in the 90s in a report done for the Lortie Commission. Yet it and a number of other recommendations never made it to the final cut which ostensibly upheld the status quo. Established parties and network executives know best. Nothing to see here, carry on about your business, ladies and gentlemen. A surprise result, I know, for a government commission.

And here we are, nearly 20 years later and the debate still continues to be framed by very narrow special interests. Elizabeth May’s exclusion from the leadership debate this week was not the first time for the Green Party, nor was it in 2008. Way back in 1988 after the election that year, the party took the CBC et al to court because it had been turned away from the leaders’ debate at that time. It lost and that seems to be the measure we’re still using to keep them from the table.

But much has changed since then. The Green Party suggested a method that could be used to determine eligibility which seems fair and reasonable. A 3 of 4 qualifying scheme, like determining CanCon. To be included in a televised leaders debate a party must possess 3 of either i) having an elected MP; ii) be running candidates in all ridings; iii) be federally funded; iv) have at least 5% support in national opinion polls. Now, I’d reduce it even further and say that inclusion would be predicted on having 2 of these 3: an elected MP or running candidates in all ridings or be federally funded since funding is based on achieving a certain percentage of the popular vote.

This idea we tightly hold onto of the Green Party being fringe simply comes from the result of our antiquated and hopelessly undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system. Where true proportional representation is in force, the Greens are often times a serious factor in the government make-up. The latest evidence of that occurred last weekend in Germany where, in state elections, Baden-Württemberg Green Party leader, Winfried Kretschmann, became the first ever Green Premier.

The continued marginalization of the Greens in our country from participating fully in the political discourse by small vested interests intent on maintaining the status quo is a growing blot on our democracy. Adherence to old ways of doing things simply because that’s the way we’ve always done them regardless of the obvious deleterious effects seems nothing short of determinedly pathological. Our way of doing politics as it stands presently is itself becoming fringe.

There is a better way. We know it. We can show it and see it at work around us. Yet we insist on continuing along a path that can only lead to continued cynicism, apathy and disillusion.

greenly submitted by Urban Sophisticat