Pardon the cynicism but it really is a marvel that the very freedom that so many hundreds of thousands in the Arab world are now willing to give up their very lives for – the freedom and the right to have a say in the issues that affect their lives, and the right to say who they want as their democratically elected leaders – we here in Canada so take for granted that when the call comes to cast our vote, almost half of us eschew that right.
There is an old Jamaican saying: ‘Wanty-wanty can’t get I’, havey-havey no want I’‘
In another dimension to this, we like to think of ourselves as living in the free world but when people exercise their right to protest, as in the events of last summer during the G20 Summit that was held here in Toronto, that right to protest is severely repressed as a matter of course by our own police forces, those people whose paycheques come from our tax dollars.
Realpolitik as we know it here in the West does not truly generate confidence among the masses toward our system of governance to answer to the will of the people. Rather, our system serves to a considerable extent the designs of political ideologues and powerful lobby groups. Outside of brutal repression whether by reason of gender or opposition to the ruler of the day, can we recognize any great departures between governance under a leader like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who will stay in power for 40-plus years, and what we have here in the West – a changing array of faces paradoxically brandishing a slogan of change that does blessed little for society’s most vulnerable while ensuring a cushy life for the wealthy?
No one ever said governing is an easy task. This calling to be of service to one’s nation is a special one that requires extraordinary talent, especially when difficult decisions have to be made and there is so much to be managed every day.
But the other part of the equation lies in how we, the common populace, relate to the system of governance. The general idea seems to be that we will elect (well, a relatively few of us will play a part in electing) political leaders and then we will leave the job of managing the affairs of the nation to them so that we can go about our private business watching the hockey game after work and taking care of our individual lives.
But we need to start thinking about our relationship with those we elect as a kind of marriage. When we neglect the relationship, leaving the elected on their own, unattended to, they lean toward those who give them the most attention. Before you know it, they will become unfaithful to those who voted for them and instead have stronger outside relationships with powerful lobbyists and other powerbrokers. We have to take our fair share of the blame for this relationship of neglect.
Power is magnetic. So that where a politician sees a chance to increase his power he will likely follow it. We need to show that we are interested in a meaningful and communicative relationship with those we elect, otherwise others will fill our space. And for that we must take responsibility.
It will take a little effort to make time for regular, meaningful communication with the individuals we elect but we can clearly see the effect of not doing so particularly at the provincial and federal levels. What happens is that the priorities that are set do not reflect the real needs of the general public. Where we are concerned about a reasonable living wage, affordable, comprehensive healthcare and education, affordable housing, protection from harmful chemicals in the products we use, a cleaner environment and reliable public transportation, they are concerned with spending billions on fighter jets, building more prisons, mudslinging their rivals and muddling construction of modern public transportation lines.
As in the case of the marriage, the line voters need to get used to in dealing with politicians is: “We need to talk.”
A note on damned if you do and damned if you don’t…
After months of bad relations between frontline Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers and the public, the TTC has hired its first chief customer service officer. But now the budget-challenged TTC is being criticized for the approximately $150,000 annual salary for the new post.