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Candidates intent on winning, not on serving the public good

Mudslinging aside – voters being reminded why the Liberals were sent to the doghouse, the profligacy of the NDP, the heartlessness of the Tories – the provincial election now underway has been about promising handouts.

All of the parties are selling some form of short-tem benefit for targeted demographics, hoping the pledges will translate into votes, the now well-entrenched policy of bribing voters with their own money … and the cash of future generations.

Politics is no longer about vision or even good governance, what about short-term payoffs.

The goal is to appeal to as many people as possible – no matter how untruthful the message out on the hustings – in order to garner enough votes to get or keep power. Each of the parties tried to appear as centrist as possible, the better to seem worthy of the public’s trust. The squishy middle has long been held by the Liberals, who’ve had a mantra of campaigning from the left and governing from the right. The Conservatives make a direct pitch to the wallet, downplaying a long history of fiscal mismanagement and muzzling the unacceptable social-conservative faction. The NDP, most progressive in its aims, tries to appear fiscally balanced to court some soft supporters of the other parties.

In short, it’s all about electability. It’s about getting into office, above all else. Even if poor governance usually follows.

Those who support that pragmatic approach argue that none of the changes proposed by their party of choice can happen without first winning election.

The only acceptable topics are those related to short-term thinking, an affliction that’s permeated all facets of our society. Adopting the business model that’s taken hold in the last few decades – today’s stock price, shareholder value and this quarter’s profits above all else – our political system has been shaped by constant lobbying from those who see society through only the lens of finances. It’s what’s made citizens no more than consumers.

Politicians, of course, have a built-in capacity for short-term thinking: the election cycle. They make promises and float policies designed for immediate impact – spend for votes today. That’s problematic in and of itself, as it gives little regard to the idea that actions taken now will have impacts years and decades down the road. And it usually means bad policies that spend everyone’s money to little benefit in reality.

If decisions are made by politicians for the long term but are felt to adversely affect people in the present then it may affect re-election prospects, and to most politicians staying in power is more important to them than implementing policies for the long term, no matter how good the public benefit.

For politicians, it’s always them ahead of us, and we seem just fine with that, or perhaps we just can’t be bothered to think it through. That’s why they can make and break promises with impunity. Sure, the promises they make come with a price, but 30 years of corporatist lobbying and influence have made taxes a four-letter word, meaning many politicians will try to win votes by promising to spend today while simultaneously pledging to cut taxes. That often means deficits, a situation that’s ideal for politicians intent only on re-election: the bill won’t come due until later, when they’re off living comfortably on gold-plated pensions.

That kind of thinking is what got us into today’s mess. In the course of a couple of generations, we’ve undone centuries of efforts to create a society based on the common good.

In purely economic terms, the collective efforts are the rising tide that lifted all boats – some more so than others, certainly. Today, however, there’s an element that seems hell-bent on undoing precisely the conditions that allowed for the great prosperity now under attack by short-term thinking. This election will change nothing for the better.

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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