The Canadian Imagination

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

Friday, March 02, 2012

Democracy and the election of 2011

Democracy -- one person, one unfettered vote -- is the root of what we understand as Canada. Respecting the free, unfettered ability of each person to express a vote which honestly reflects their intention is at its heart.

Attempting to influence choice is as old as rhetoric and debate and marketing and image management: to the point that the attempt to influence is inseparable from democracy itself. Rhetoric and debate have their democratic roots in the need for an informed electorate, but their outcomes may owe more to tricks of oration than to objective logic. Marketing and image management accept from the outset that the packaging, teaser, trailer, and promise have greater weight than the final outcome: and that we will interpret that final outcome either to justify our expectations or increasingly to reject the entire process. This is where cynicism is born.

Technology -- even robocalls -- is just another tool to spread a message and attempt to influence a vote. We can bitch and gripe about the intrusive nature of modern campaigns, but -- for better or worse -- they are (for the most part) an attempt to inform the public about issues of concern to them, however selectively those issues are chosen and framed. In a partisan political climate, that choice and framing naturally favours the party sending out the message.

It is not the politicians' fault that most people pay as little daily attention to policy issues as they do, or that the average attention span is a matter of seconds and headlines.

Yet there are hard lines between the attempt to influence through persuasion, the attempt to influence through misrepresentation, and the attempt to influence through attempted disenfranchisement. It is one thing to speak anonymously, although in election campaigns even that is problematic. It is quite another to speak under a false identity. And any attempt to keep a person from voting or reduce the value of a legitimate vote should be abhorrent to all.

If even one person loses the ability to cast a free, unfettered vote which honestly reflects their intention through the misrepresentation or interference of another, the relative numeric value of my own vote does increase. However, the ethical value of my vote -- and of democracy as a whole -- is diminished.

If such actions ever become politically acceptable, how long can it possibly be before victory in a "democratic" election becomes only a minor hurdle on the path to political power?

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