lovehate: My First and Last Election Rant

While most people in the US are wrapped up in election fever as November approaches, few below the 49th parallel even know that Canada is going to the polls in three weeks. And perhaps the differences between our political systems, while many, would provide some encouragement for me to at least like one electoral process over the other, I somehow manage to hate them both.

Both systems trumpet "democracy" and try to convince voters of an Ancient Greek manisfestation of "by the people, for the people." Both systems sell their processes on the idea that an election is the opportunity for the "little guy" (as spatially misogynist as that term is) to have the same say as anyone else.

The fallacy of such claims rests on one simple fact: both the US and Canada are effectively constitutional oligarchies. Oh sure, we get the end-user choice, but how many coffee filters, strainers and sifting devices did that choice have to get through? Because quite honestly, in Canada, I don't get any say in which person will be my Prime Minister. Our parliamentary party system allows for a small group of people to decide on who, within the party, runs for party leadership. A slightly larger group chooses which of these elite actually get the title, and then, we don't even vote directly for the person who's leading the country - we vote for their party affiliation.

The US is slightly more effective in giving its citizens direct input as to the country's figurehead, but such a race invariably results in a popularity contest that is not reliant on policy and promises or, even worse, hearkens back to party lines etched in stone and swathed in fields of red and blue. So yes, US citizens do vote directly for a president, but what say did they have in the choices?

On both sides of the border, since the 1960's anyway, "new" media has been the cause of great consternation for political parties and the electoral process. The "new" media of television reared it omnipresent head in the infamous Kennedy/Nixon debate of 1960. Since then broader and burgeoning aspects of television (with the current pervasive onslaught of punditry) has morphed into our concept of new media to include blogs, podcasts, youtube and twitter accounts. The clear appeal of a politician's ability to successfully utilize technology is often grasped most readily by younger populations who, thinking they see a like-minded individual, will fill out online petitions and become friends on Facebook. The online component of a campaign can often be very lopsided for one candidate over another and, while it may be a noticable piece, it is often a largely irrelevant one as the demographic that constitutes online supporters are the LAST people to get out to vote.

I get that an electoral system will never be perfect, but when leaders can claim mandates from less than half of the eligible voters participating in the process I start to lose faith. If a candidate "stumps" on anti-poverty, and the impoverished are the least likely to register to vote, where is the accountability? If a platform policy speaks of immigrant rights and improving the situations of newcomers to the country, how likely are they to register to vote, even if they are eligible at all?

And, with all this said, my vote is crucial. I still don't buy the myth that people who don't vote don't retain the right to complain - that's complete bullshit. If I'm paying taxes (for the many social programs that I am thankful for) I have made my investment into my community and my country.  I went through a common stretch of disillusion where voting was an afterthought for me and I was dismayed by the system enough to avoid even participating at the ballot. And while, I hate to adopt a cliche, one must pick their battles. I will never change the electoral system. The political will to do so has, quite simply, too many political angles for a sitting politician to tackle - after all, the old system has served most incumbents just fine thank you.

Instead, I participate though a vote and voice, and neither can be suppressed, and neither can be comprimised. If you've never found cause to drag your ass off your couch to get to a polling station and cast a ballot, I'm going to be the last one to criticize because I've been there and my couch has the indentation to prove it. My last word on the elections (in Canada and the US) is that I hate the electoral process, the political system, the lobbyists, pundits and backroom deals, but, when the writ is dropped, I will vote and vent and love and hate with the best of them.