Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Differences without Distinction

Over the weekend I had a conversation with two of my friends about democracy and voting in Canada. They are university-educated, twenty-something women who do not consistently vote. Out of curiosity I asked why they didn’t vote. One said that they do not feel adequately informed. Politics is complicated and difficult to understand. According to her, the natural bias of the media makes it challenging to feel properly informed. There are no objective sources to learn about parties, candidates or platforms.

On the other hand another reason for not participating was that Canada is remarkably well governed. Does it really matter which party is in power or who is Prime Minister/Premier? I think so, but there’s a certain logic to this for most Canadians who do not notice how the government impacts their daily life.

This made me think about the lack of diversity in our parties. The Liberal Party convention in Montreal seems to have confirmed that the Liberals are aligned with the Conservatives on economic policy. In an interview Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) said that the Liberals would not be raising taxes, and tacitly endorsed the fiscal management of the Harper government. Aside from their stances on a few policies, such as marijuana legalization and right to assisted suicide the breadth of difference between the two leading parties is now quite small.

Much has been written about the NDP’s move to the right over the last few years to become another centre-left party. With that being the case, does choosing between any of the three parties make a substantial difference? Could Canadians be excused for thinking that it does not matter who in particular is governing the country?

Andrew Coyne gave a speech about this, in how a consensus about economics was coming together and that parties would have to redefine themselves along other issues. The Liberals already seem to be in the process of doing so with their more libertarian approach to social issues.

Obviously there are differences between the parties, but perhaps the “settling” of big questions on certain issues has taken some of the fire and passion out of our debates. Ultimately voters need to be offered clear choices, and perhaps that is happening less now.

One thing my friends and I agreed on is that, as Ontarians, our civic education did not adequately prepare them to participate in our democracy. Simple solutions were offered, like civics should be a full term, should concentrate more on local context (rather than international), and be taught in grade 12/more consistently through education. At least that may give young voters the tools to deal with the system and feel more able to participate within it. 

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