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Doing our bit for democracy even in the face of indifference

In case you missed it, there’s an election today. Ontarians don’t seem particularly interested.

We appear indifferent, largely because we know that what’s said on the campaign trail rarely translates into a real benefit after the election. None of what’s going on has captured our collective imagination.

It’s likely that Ontarians are simply jaded by years of poor governance, and unimpressed by the options they see.

We suffer from a dearth of good leaders. Even passable ones.

That’s true from the federal government right on down to the local level.

This is not about charisma or the ability to give rousing speeches, though that is a selling feature for far too many voters. No, proper governance means looking out for the public good rather than the interests of the few, whether that’s the donors, the lobbyists or the self-serving politicians and bureaucrats themselves.

All of the parties are hoping for something, anything to stick. Unfortunately, instead of dismissing all of it as useless vote-buying nonsense, we give credence to the endless stream of promises, half-truths and blatant lies.

The result? We end up with much less than we deserve, in part because we like to think we make intellectual choices, using our brains, but invariably default to our guts and our hearts.

That’s not to say our impressions aren’t important. We want politicians with real messages that resonate with us. Then there’s the beer test: who could we see ourselves sitting down and having an enjoyable conversation with?

That also presents something of a conflict, in that we want our purported leaders to be better than us on some level, but not act as though they are. When politicians routinely act like they know better than us, that really gets our collective goat. Worse still, they start to believe that they are better than those they govern.

It’s an imperious attitude – and actions that show flagrant disregard for the public good, as we’re seeing now from most governments – that has historically led us to be perfectly fine with watching leaders go by the wayside. Those in power have essentially lost the consent to govern, a real threat to the basics of democracy.

Sure, things are much worse elsewhere, including in the United States, but we’re not immune to the unresponsive governance that shows callous disregard for the public good and consistently poor decisions federally, provincially and regionally.

It’s important to remember that democracy is not the default situation – it was hard fought, and we’re very much guilty of letting it slip away.

In the democratic system that ostensibly applies in the West, from Greece to Waterloo Region, our elected officials, bureaucrats and assorted hangers-on are supposed to represent the public good, the will of the people. We set them up, finance the system, and in return we get good governance. That’s the theory. The reality, we know, is much different. Self-interest and cookie-jar raiding are the norm. There is little, if any accountability. No long-term thinking. And our indifference and inattentiveness are taken as endorsement to up the ante.

Our disconnection from the process makes it easier. We don’t trust politicians and bureaucrats. We don’t trust them with our money. We don’t trust them to be ethical. We don’t trust them to do what’s right for us. On the contrary, most of us feel we’re paying too much for too little, not getting value in return for our taxes. Instead of demanding more, we grow indifferent even to casting a ballot once every four years.

It’s easy to see why we’re increasingly apathetic, but today is your opportunity to go out and make some kind of statement. To show that we’re not unaware of what’s happening. To act on what we think is best.

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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