By Dr. AJAMU NANGWAYA
“If the gods had intended for people to vote, they would have given us candidates.”
– Howard Zinn
People tend to instinctively respond to people who do not vote with the clichéd rebuke, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain” about government policies and programs.
Many people have exaggerated the actual impact of voting by oppressed groups in shaping and/or influencing the policies and programs of the government. We live in capitalist societies in which the above mythic perception of the vote confronts the reality of an electoral politics that is governed by “He (or she) who pays the piper calls the tune.”
Most Canadians who make financial donations to political parties are doing so because they expect the winning organization’s policies to contribute to bettering their economic and social condition.
However, it is reasonable for many voters to believe, based on lived experience, that the strength of their net worth or bank account determines their influence in the political system.
Dr. Paul Howe, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick, led a study which revealed that donors who contribute over $200 to political parties are 25 per cent of all contributors. However, they generate close to two-thirds of the donations to political parties.
Wealthier Canadians are the ones who are paying the piper. It is not surprising that the social and economic policies of the federal, provincial and municipal governments since the mid-1970s to today have favoured wealthy individuals and capitalist businesses.
When the federal and provincial government started to defund post-secondary education in the 1980s and largely shifted its financing to students and/or their parents, the banks made additional money from the interest on student loans. Financial institutions also generated profits from peddling registered education savings plan – the privatization of access to a college or university education.
When the federal and provincial governments embarked on the path of tax cuts to corporations, high-earning individuals and the capital gains tax, they were simply attending to the interests of the privileged classes.
In the 1960s, the federal government’s tax on corporations stood at 40 per cent, which was slashed to 28 per cent by 1990. The continued generosity of the federal government to the business class led to a corporate tax rate of 15 per cent in 2012.
Tax cut is a major contributor to income inequality across Canada. It is a public policy scheme that transfers wealth from the government to high income earners and the wealthy. Tax reduction robs governments of the resources to pay for affordable housing, public transit, social assistance and post-secondary education, which contribute to the well-being of the working-class.
When the federal Liberal Party under Jean Chretien and the current regime of Stephen Harper attacked unemployment benefits, they are blatantly telling you that the votes of the working-class do not count. It is only the desire of the captains of industry and commerce for a cheap, exploitable and scared labour force that matters.
In the opening years of the 1990s, over 80 per cent of unemployed Canadian workers were eligible for unemployment benefits. In 2012, less than 40 per cent of jobless workers benefitted from Employment Insurance. Eligible jobless workers now get 55 per cent of their insurable earnings as unemployment income.
The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party have sent a clear message to the working-class that your votes and priorities are meaningless when compared with business owners’ need for a low-wage policy.
The restrictions on getting unemployment benefits when coupled with ungenerous welfare benefits have forced many workers to join the ranks of the working poor.
If those of you from Frantz Fanon’s “wretched of the earth” really had a say in crafting public policies by way of your votes, why is it that governments across the globe have been reducing or getting rid of social and income-security programs that benefit the working-class?
Governments have the gall to plunder these programs because they are not accountable to you. Your votes are not the source of your emancipation as highlighted in the poem Letter from a Friend by the radical poet, social commentator and journalist, Mutabaruka:
“so i am safe within the confines of your passitivity
to stand on this rostrum
and address you
and fill your oppressed ears
with mocking promises
as i speak, i speak for all who are here with me
brown and nearly white
for color, class and creed
has no meaning where the almighty dollar is concerned
and on behalf of the government
here and abroad
i would like to thank you voters
for dipping your finger in the blood
thus marking an X
giving us the wrong to do wrong”
The majority of Canadian voters are on to the ‘mocking promises’ of party leaders and their respective parties.
According to an Ipsos poll published on August 13, only “35% believe that the NDP and Thomas Mulcair are the party and leader ‘most seriously committed to keeping its election promises’, higher than the proportion that believes the (Stephen) Harper Conservatives (30%),” while the Justin “Trudeau Liberals (26%) or (Gilles) Duceppe Bloc (3%) is most committed to keeping its promises.”
The voters who bother to show up to the voting booth are probably doing so because it is the “only” game in town, just for the heck of it, or a misplaced faith in the capacity of pro-capitalist parties to serve the material interests of the labouring classes.
As a voter, who is not a member of the upper class, there is an effective way to measure the power of your vote. You may do so by examining the adequacy of government programs in meeting your needs and others like yourself.
Ajamu Nangwaya, PhD, is an educator, organizer and writer. He is an organizer with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence.