The looming federal election has me thinking a lot about the medically induced coma. You know, Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon was put in one after his stroke, and two Canadian soldiers received the coma treatment when they were wounded in last weekend’s suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan. Now I’m ready. Just put me out for a few days, until the election has meandered to its conclusion on Monday, and wake me when it’s over.
This is a new feeling for me. Usually an election—any election—makes me swell with civic pride to the point of bloating, and I earnestly gush about the honour and duty all voters have to exercise their franchise. My belief in democracy tends to be naive and passionate, far from the knowing detachment I’ve seen in friends who are political professionals of various stripes (although not too far, as even the most cynical of these people still cares deeply about the system). During this campaign, however, I lost my moral compass and went down the road of voter apathy.
Once I found apathy road, I was surprised to discover it’s a two-way street. I don’t give a shit about the election; it doesn’t give a shit about me. Maybe I was too much of a chump to notice during previous campaigns but this time around, while I’ll still vote (see “naive,” above), I feel genuinely excluded from the decision-making process.
Take, for example, the flagship media events of the campaign, the televised debates with the four guys who lead the county’s so-called “major political parties.” For the sake of argument, let’s assume these painfully straight, white guys and their predominately white-guy parties actually care about the main issues they discuss, which focus on childcare, aboriginal rights, same-sex marriage and tax rates. (At least the tax part is believable.) Let’s assume I sit through a debate or two—or all four—and decide on the best candidate to represent me. No matter how excited I am about that candidate, I can’t vote for him.
The Canadian parliamentary system comes with a certain amount of estrangement built in, so it only lets me choose between the party representatives running in my local riding. Fair enough, that’s indirect democracy in action. Yet even in my riding I can’t vote for Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Quebecois, which has candidates exclusively in Quebec. And the debate gets further out of touch with my riding by leaving out the Green Party, which is running candidates in each of Canada’s 308 ridings (more than the Liberal Party, the Conservative Reform Alliance Party or, obviously, the Bloc party).
Media coverage beyond the debates is further compromised. Like bookies watching—and selling—the odds, most news organizations have a slavish devotion to opinion polls, those putatively scientific snapshots of the public mindset. You probably know the narrative arc of the campaign as told through the polls: Liberal prime minister Paul Martin managed to lose the inertia and support that comes with leading a thriving country, and just in time for the January 23 vote Stephen Harper and his regressive Conservatives are gaining public momentum.
But this story bears little resemblance to Nova Scotia reality. Here, the New Democratic Party is strong, and people can remember that despite Stephen Harper’s new camera-friendly veneer of approachability, he is a longtime prickly ideologue, and his Alberta-born party is driven by revenge fantasies against eastern Canada to make up for decades of perceived western-bashing. It’s as if two elections are happening simultaneously, and during ours the emperor keeps forgetting his pants.
Nova Scotia isn’t sticking to the script, and coincidentally we are rarely included in the Globe and Mail’s otherwise thorough election coverage. The Globe has published several articles that look at the ups and downs of polls across the country—without once mentioning us. Then again, the province has just 11 seats out of the nation’s 308. So if we are going through a different election than the one in the news, is it because we don’t care about the rest of the country? Or because it doesn’t care about us?
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