The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Politics, followed by pond scum

Perhaps it was not the wisest of bookings; but only if someone happened to look at the roster with a sense of humour, and notice that the all-candidates session happened to be followed immediately (and in the very next room) by a detailed look at the microlife of local ponds. Didn't stop the coffee and inedible cookies from migrating from one room to the other: and we ended up rooting for the final success of one amoeboid which had finally figured out how to get around the stiffened and outstretched dead pseudopods of another in order to finally swallow it. So challenging had been the task that even after having been engulfed, the pseudopods continued to create distinct bulges in the amoeboid's membrane from the inside: which would have to qualify as a painful example of upset stomach/indigestion by just about any definition which would not actually require a stomach.

For a shivering and slippery evening, there was an exceptional turnout for the pond scum talk.

The political discussion was not poorly attended either -- but it was attended interestingly. Candidates attended by small groups of people, almost all of whom were wearing that candidate's button: all conversation nice, all polite, all congenial. (Preaching to the choir.) I, in sharp contrast to just about everyone, alone, apart in an observational corner, watching, listening -- and now, writing. At one time or another several of the candidates approached me, did I live in their riding, could they explain to me why I should vote for them. Non-commmital answer to the first; and to the second I finally asked whether they were willing to propose legislation binding a party (even loosely!) to its promises.

I think I might have found the one issue upon which every member of every one of the parties agrees.

Section 550 of the Elections Act (aka the "Sheila Copps clause") states that
No candidate shall sign a written document presented by way of demand or claim made on him or her by any person or association of persons, between the issue of the writ and polling day, if the document requires the candidate to follow a course of action that will prevent him or her from exercising freedom of action in Parliament, if elected, or to resign as a member if called on to do so by any person or association of persons.
which Elections Canada goes on to explain as meaning that a candidate can make promises to the electorate during a campaign, but is prohibited from
giving to someone or some group a document which will commit the candidate, if and when the document is subsequently presented to him or her, to take some specific action in Parliament (or commit him or her to resign) which restricts his or her freedom of action in Parliament.
In direct contrast to what I have been repeatedly told by various candidates, this section of the Elections Act does not prohibit potential legislation to bind a party to fulfill its promises. One does not negate the other.

Originally, I suspect, section 550 evolved out of a need to protect a candidate from having their vote legally bound to special interest groups. Now, however, it seems to have become a shield behind which all candidates and parties hide to keep from being bound to anything at all ... which has caused the basic function of the political promise to have shifted from proposal précis to a vote draw -- and not one thing more. Ah, McLuhan, we have grown to accept (more or less) that programming is what stations create to draw an audience they can sell to advertisers; and that a minimal bit of substance is all that the professionals among bloggers emit to draw their readership (because if one writes primarily for substance -- I say this from experience! -- the income level is below pitiful): but why have we not yet clued in to how political promises in a mass media environment have shifted from substance to draw? What, in the end, is the difference between creating a minimal bit of non-binding suggestion of substance to pull together eyeballs or to pull together votes?

No party yet has come even close to keeping all its promises (except perhaps the time or two it has tried desperately not to make them at all -- and we have seen how successful that tactic was!). A couple of times, we have been left spinning in the aisles over how quickly the election promise had been not only overturned but inverted. Partisan editorialising notwithstanding, not one party in power has yet been able to stand fully by its convictions. Perhaps it is as simple a thing as the idealism meeting "real life". (Ask the Tories where the extra money to be made up by the cut on the GST would come from. An honest answer would invoke basic economic principles, an implied increase in consumer spending as a direct consequence of lower taxation; but the honest answer is not the politic one -- and in any case would open up the can of worms about whether more consumer spending is actually good for the health of the country -- and so the Tories remain silent on the issue.) No party new to power can be expected to have things work out exactly as their mandate says they should: nor do I require it of them. Still, every party expects to be able to purchase my vote, with their election promises as the currency of barter.

Yet is there any point in all the platforms and promises in the world, when "punishing" one party for breaking its promises only brings in another one which cannot but do the same; when there is no legal requirement to follow up on those promises whatsoever? and no desire whatsoever to create one?


At Fri Jan 20, 04:03:00 PM, Blogger Death Shall Have No Dominion said...

Who are you???
You're impressively articulate!!


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