Low voter turnout a symptom of growing cynicism

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.

Last week’s federal election saw voter turnout fall to 62 per cent, the lowest rate in more than a decade. By comparison, the rate was 67 per cent in 2019, itself down from the 68.3 per cent of registered voters who turned up in 2015.

To be sure, the pandemic likely played a big role in last week’s results. Throughout the short campaign, the public’s interest seemed elsewhere – a rampant virus, lockdowns and fiscal woes will do that. And, perhaps an indicator that turnabout is fair play, many Canadians have long known that the public’s interest isn’t a concern for politicians. (There was certainly much speculation about the timing of an election call, much of it cynical, in keeping with the theme.)

Self-dealing and corruption is nothing new. What we have in Ottawa  – and, really, at all levels of government – is a reverse Robin Hood situation for the benefit of the votes government receives. There is, of course, an even smaller few who benefit even more – these are the big donors and benefactors who pull the strings. Those with self-interest – i.e. positions diametrically opposed to the public good – are happy with the status quo.

Public sector unions, for instance, are major benefactors, launching third-party front groups to support left-leaning parties. In exchange for union support, the Liberals and NDP are determined to continue robbing Peter (reminder: that’s us) to pay Paul. They will happily run down the economy and make paupers of all before they will do what’s good for the people.

George Bernard Shaw was prescient about the practice: “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

While nothing akin to the full-time lobbying and outright corruption of the corporate backers, the meddling of public-sector unions should be outlawed from all politics – the rules are strictest at the federal level, though there are plenty of loopholes and workarounds in the regulations. Given the size of the civil service, there’s also an argument to be made to disenfranchise employees given the conflict of interest – their demands are in direct contrast to the public good. The latter isn’t feasible for now, but the government could easily make it more difficult for those opposed to the public interest to be kept out of the process.

Any hope of regaining even a modicum of public trust starts with each level of government getting its fiscal house in order. The long list of waste and corruption has been reported widely.

Partisans turn a blind eye to all of the negatives, whether that’s in support of a particular party or a pet project. The rest of us look on apathetically, often resigned to the fact graft and corruption abound. A few note that incompetence is commonplace, from municipal bureaucracies through to the boardrooms of multinationals.

The only way that’s going to change is through the political will to push for true accountability. The politicians won’t do it, however, unless we force them to: they’re happy with a self-serving system that allows unfettered access to the cookie jar for themselves and their financial backers.

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