Electoral Reform? Try a reformed electorate

This is a guest post by Dave Lundy, a truck driver who resides in Sapperton. He is active within the political community of Burnaby, New Westminster and Coquitlam. His passion is politics. An outspoken, opinionated contributor in various forums on Tenth to the Fraser, Dave has had numerous letters to the editor published in local newspapers. He is married to his wonderful wife Sheila and they are the proud parents of Saba the Cat. He also has 2 step children, Christine who resides in the Yukon, and Tom who is serving in the Canadian military.

We have just finished with another Federal election. The results are in and we have a Conservative majority government. This also means that, at least on the federal political scene, there is 4 years before the next federal election.

Politics can be a passionate pursuit. Though I may not see eye to eye politically with people with political views differing from my own, I respect the fact that people like David Brett and John Ashdown offer their views of politics and opinions as passionately as I do. If everyone thought the exact same way, we’d die of boredom. I think that it can be said that most of us want whats best for everyone, regardless of political stripe. The fact that we are involved politically as passionately as we are, shows that. Though people have differing political views, at least we take the time to be active, to debate, to be vocal, to stand up and be heard.

The latest flavour of the month is the voter turnout. I don’t believe changing the electoral system will address the issue of voter apathy. Sorry sorry Rebecca Helps (btw, wasn’t it nice to have Rebecca text her media to New Westminster Coquitlam from Elizabeth May’s victory party in Saanich. I don’t think she spent that much time in the riding she was actually running in at all. Now there’s someone who takes the citizens in New Westminster Coquitlam completely and totally for granted. I hope that in 4 years time, everyone remembers her for that)

And believe it or not… sorry Fin. Yes Fin Donnelly and in fact the NDP federally are on record as supporting electoral reform. That is one area where I distinctly differ from the party to which I support.

Whether its electoral reform, electronic balloting, or what have you, none of those things address the core reason why we have 55 to 60% voter turnout for elections. To me, it has everything to do with the way elections are portrayed by the media in Canada. Where ever you choose to get your information from, you see the area of politics constantly under attack. The media does a great job of smearing those people like Fin, Peter, Diana, Paul, Dawn, etc as being nothing more than “on the gravy train”. Yet these people cast aside their chosen professions to serve the people of Canada. For the next 4 years, our elected officials will be working in and out of the constituency offices on behalf of their constituents, as well as the citizens of Canada. Regardless of your political stripe, anyone willing to do that, should be respected. You have the Canadian Taxpayers Federation time and again slamming parliament and politics in general Then there was Stephen Harper and the Conservatives telling voters “this election you have a choice between a Conservative Majority and a coalition of the socialists and separtists.”

You have the leader of the Opposition saying, “its a 2 party battle, Liberal and Conservative.” Nothing but doom and gloom from both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

But I digress. Everywhere you look, the entire political process is being put down, slammed, mocked,etc. People are constantly being told, “you have no say in elections” and other ignorant misleading statements. When I was in Grade 4, there was a federal election on. In my class specifically, I remember one of the candidates coming to talk to us about it. He was a young guy named Svend Robinson, running in Tommy Douglas’ riding of Burnaby Edmonds. We had a mock election, in the class. To be brief, I learned about the electoral process itself in Grade 4. That would have been when I was 8 or 9 years old. Today, we talk about politics and elections like they are a dirty word, or a chore, or something to be ignored, something distasteful. Its been a systemic thing that’s taken place over the last 30 plus years.

But its not just the politics that have been under attack. It’s, in my opinion, service to the community in general, that has been vilified to a dangerous extent. In Canada, we talk about a caring compassionate society that we live in. And don’t get me wrong there are lots of people who either work or volunteer to help make people’s lives better. But one only needs to look at the attacks in the local papers of the Last Door by citizens in and around Brow of the Hill, to see that our society is not about “we”, its about “me.”

“What is in it for me, to get out and vote?”
“Why should I care about the homelessness problems plaguing our region?” “Why should I care who gets elected?”

A prime example of the “me” generation and mentality, is in our local grocery stores. Self Serve checkouts. (ok this is a topic that could go on its own so I’ll try and keep it brief to my point.) No one gets a discount off of the price of their groceries for using these machines over a cashier. Yet people will gladly go to one of these things and in effect do someone’s job for them, for free. Surprisingly enough, I’ve told a few people this, and they shrug at me. But when I turn around and say, “how about I come to your workplace and do your job …. for free, how are you going to be able to provide for your family then if you’ve been replaced by a machine, with no benefit to you at all, other than unemployment.” And the answer is always the same, “That will never happen. Why do you care?”

I care because I can see where grocery stores (in this example) are forcing people to use these contraptions by short staffing the stores on purpose, and laying off staff. All the while pocketing the savings in labour costs built into the price of the goods being bought. If you think that goods will be cheaper at Safeway and Save On should they get rid of their cashiers and replace them all with self-serve, you’re on another planet. Their margins will increase significantly. But as I said, I digress.

That cashier is a productive member of society. That self serve checkout is a machine. It doesn’t give back to the community. It doesn’t vote. It doesn’t have kids in school and extra curricular activities, its a freaking machine. That cashier spends money in businesses, the machines eat money, but other than the occasional lube job and repair, don’t contribute one dime to New Westminster. Yet we are being conditioned to merely accept these things, as ways to “speed up the process.” While with me, I give people crap for using them. If people are willing to accept things like self serve checkouts, and not see the bigger picture, its just another sign of how short sighted a society we live in. I would bet if enough people demanded prompt friendly HUMAN service at the Safeways and Save Ons and not enough people used the self serve checkouts to make them worth while, that they would go away and that the store would staff its store properly. But people aren’t willing to stand up for that. Its about what people are willing to accept.

They want the quick, easy, convenient way. And that same mentality is creeping into our voting system and politics. People don’t want to get involved in the process. They don’t look at voting as a privilege or a right that over the past 144 years many Canadian men and women have fought and died for to preserve and protect (actually longer than that if you back to the war of 1812.) We are conditioned by the media and even our own government to take things for granted. That way, when your medicare premiums double, and wait times triple, when HST is shoved down your throat, when wages are frozen and enshrined rights are taken away, people just sit back and say, “oh well, what can we do?” And then they talk about changing the electoral system.

Its not the electoral system that’s broken, its the electorate and the engagement of the electorate that needs to be fixed.