We’re more divided at a time when political engagement is needed

The Olympics wrapped up as they began, with a big “meh.” The story for the next Games, to be held in China, will be a boycott – far more useful and interesting than the event itself.

Next up on the blasé scale is a federal election, slated for September 20.

The call was blatant opportunism on the part of Justin Trudeau, who sees a chance to regain a majority by taking advantage of the disarray in the opposition and some latent goodwill from the handling of the pandemic. Better to face voters now, he thinks, rather than wait for the fixed-election date two years hence, when there will be much more acrimony over mishandling of the crisis, runaway deficits and economic pain.

That Canadians are distracted and less likely to head to the polls is likely a boon for the incumbent party. That Canadians are distracted by a resurgent pandemic, job losses and economic upheaval is apparently secondary to political gain.

Nothing like the perpetual election cycle in the U.S., where the contest to lead the Democrats is the current warm-up race, Canada’s relatively short run-up to the vote will very much focus on poll numbers and the personality of the leaders – issues of substance, the public good and the very high likelihood of poor governance to follow whoever wins won’t factor into the discussion.

There are real substantive differences between the parties, though not as much as they’d have you believe and certainly fewer than would actually be delivered by the eventual winner. But the media coverage will focus on a few hot-button items – the bloom is off the rose with Trudeau, Erin O’Toole is an unknown leading a party, Jagmeet Singh has yet to resonate and the Greens remain in disarray – and the potential swing ridings that will get all the attention.

Will Trudeau regain the majority he won in 2015, or will we have a repeat of the stalemate from the 2019 election? Will we punish the Liberals for calling an election, or the other parties for lacklustre opposition?  Will we be looking for stability coming out of the pandemic, or opt for a shakeup?

Whatever the latest outcome, it’s encouraging to see the public willing to make changes. Ideally, we need to move away from the status quo, a system of government that grows increasingly undemocratic while fostering a repressive police state. When it comes to making our lot better, government is often opposed to the public good. It’s important to know the enemy: it is the corporatist state, represented by those who dictate the terms and the politicians in their employ. The chairs we shuffle in legislatures really amount to so much window dressing.

This is systemic. The enemies include politicians who buy into the police state and the entitlement of civil servants, who drain the collective wealth and prosperity of the public in an imitation of their corporate masters.

Politicians will stop at nothing to gain or retain office. It’s power at all costs – the motivation of every government, public good be damned – fear-mongering being a particular favourite, no matter what the consequences and the truth.

Is it any wonder we’re increasingly cynical, but occasionally willing to go out on an electoral limb? Cynicism about politicians, bureaucrats and the system of governance, we’re told, has many of us turning away from politics. Our distaste for how politics is done is partly to blame for falling voter turnout numbers, especially among young people.

Cynicism, in that assessment, breeds disengagement. Many of us barely take notice. When we do, however, it’s usually because the government has done something even more corrupt and egregious than we’ve come to expect. That’s when we become involved enough to build up enough anger to vote the bums out at the next available opportunity.

That was certainly the case in the last federal election, not to mention a slate of provincial votes, including the one that brought Doug Ford into power in Ontario.

While it’s fine to exact some measure of comeuppance on incumbent governments, maybe it’s time to start aiming higher. Well, there’s no maybe about it, actually.

In Canada, where the political direction is counter to our quality of life, it’s especially important to take note of the successes of more progressive, citizen-friendly policies. That’s certainly the case in the Nordic countries.

They are great examples of civil society setting the agenda rather than just focusing on the message of the elites.

Canada may not be moving in the right direction on all fronts, but reports based on objective data help us understand the choices we’re making.

Since we live in a system of our own making, every policy and direction is a choice. Ideally, those choices are made to benefit the average citizen, though that’s often not the case. This is not about the long, bloated list of entitlement programs – the underpinning of much government waste and the basis of deficit spending – but about policies, not dollars.

So, what would get us moving in the right direction? Focusing on people with structures built by decent people who would not crush their fellow human beings. What we have today is the opposite courtesy of the corporate police state, very much endorsed by Ottawa.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps, given that even mild reforms are doomed to failure.

What’s certain, however, is that we can’t rely on government and their masters to do what’s right. We need a much more activist population. We can’t be apathetic. Getting angry is fine, but the interest it generates in our political system should extend beyond throwing the bums out … not that that isn’t a fine place to start.

Our democracy is already challenged by voter apathy, corporate interference, negative advertising and host of dirty tricks, so a more-positive electorate would be a welcome change. That said, we tend not to vote for things, but against parties, often based on gut feelings, no matter the facts or unfounded sentiments. We vote the bums out, and the new ones continue to bum us out, repeating the cycle.

The fact that government has deteriorated to its current state is testament to what happens when we disengage from politics, ironic in an era of constant political chatter.

Of course, the nature of that constant chatter is indicative of the problem’s root: partisan sniping exacerbated by the fact we’re getting dumber and with an ever-shrinking attention span. Politicians and bureaucrats want people distracted and divided, the better to get away with their own agendas. In failing to be informed and engaged, we are our own worst enemies.

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