Yep, like pretty much everyone else in the province (with the notable exception of Rafe Mair), I guessed wrong.
In the end, it appears I was not cynical enough.
After this election we can be sure we will never see another campaign that doesn’t rely on the double-fisted combination of fear mongering and outright lies; at least not a successful one. The targets were there for Adrian Dix: Christy Clark was lofting soft underhand pitches to him all campaign – she showed a pathological ignorance of the truth, she was wrapped in scandals, she made baffling unrealistic promises, and demonstrated a serial lack of judgement- from letting an 11-year-old goad her into running a red light for sport to illegally using taxpayer’s money for “quick wins” then re-hiring the soldier who fell on the sword.
Alas, Dix stayed on the high road, where he said he would. He relied on the voters to see through the sham, without actually pointing at the sham. However, even Dorothy needed Toto to pull the curtain back a bit. When Dix did start to point out the factual errors in the Liberal “Fact Free Campaign”, he did it by talking about the facts, not the liars telling them, and it just didn’t stick. This will be lesson #1 coming out of this election for all future campaigns: Positive does not work.
Voter turnout was low, and that no doubt hurt the NDP. Some suggest strategies to fix this: mandatory voting, on-line voting, a “none of the above” on the ballot. Of course, actual proportional representation might help a bit with the general disenfranchisement of the voting populace, but as low voter turnout almost always helps the incumbent, the impetus to change does not exist. The NDP did not support the STV referendum in 2009, and if they had, we would probably now be looking at an NDP /Green coalition government and Andrew Weaver would be Minister of Environment.
I argue against on-line voting because it won’t help, and the lack of a paper trail makes fraud a certainty. There is no lack of access now to the ballots, and at the polling station I worked, 95% of people were in and out in under 5 minutes. Not bad considering you get 4 hours in which to vote.
I also argue against mandatory voting for various reasons, mostly because it perpetuates the dangerous idea that Democracy = Voting. We hear people riling about how voting is our “duty” and “the only way to express your voice” or saying if you don’t vote you are not taking part in democracy and are not, therefore, allowed to complain. To all of that I say: Bullshit. Voting is one of the least important acts in a properly functioning Democracy, and your duty is not just to spend 5 minutes every 4 years going to a voting booth to mark a circle. Allow me to explain.
I was a scrutineer at the Armoury this election and a few booths over I saw a youngish woman drop off her voting card and ID, pick up a ballot, and pull out her SmartPhone to operate her browser. She spent about 5 minutes scrolling through pages, occasionally looking at her ballot and entering a few words (presumably the Candidate’s names). At first I thought she was photographing (illegal in a voting space), but it became apparent she was doing her research to see whom she wanted to vote for. A few moments in the voting station looking at candidate’s photos and maybe a few short phrases (“I Support Families!”, “I Hate Taxes”, “My Opponent Eats Puppies”), and she felt prepared to vote for one of them.
She wasn’t doing her Democratic Duty, she was shirking it.
Casting a ballot based on alphabetical order, or the haircut of the candidate, or pithy statements on a webpage is not doing a duty, or part of any functioning democracy. Learning about issues, understanding what you are voting for and why, then voting is your duty. This is not something one can do in 5 minutes once every 4 years, even with a SmartPhone.
I’m not saying people should not vote, I am saying that your duty doesn’t stop there. If Democracy was just about voting, then we have separated ourselves too much from the process (“Don’t blame me! I voted for Kodos!”) Democracy is much more about what you do the other 10 Million minutes between casting ballots. It includes learning about issues, understanding how the process works, and understanding who you are voting for. It includes getting involved to make the process happen, whether that means joining a Party, helping out with a campaign, or supporting an independent candidate with your time and your money.
I attended two sparsely-attended all-candidates events in New Westminster during this election. Every press article in the local media was a puff-piece, a thinly veiled press release. No-one asked the local candidates any difficult questions or tested them (myself included!)
I also attended an Open House this spring with two sitting MPs in the building. Prominent members of the Official Opposition were there to hear directly from the 120,000 citizens they represent. There they were, standing in a room, with an open invitation for any of those 120,000 people to ask them questions, give them credit, complain to them, give advice, throw pies – whatever – for two hours. Less than 3 dozen people bothered to show up. Do you know who your MP is? Do you know where his/her office is? When is the last time you asked them a question? Surely you would like them to do something!
There are New Westminster City Council meetings where there isn’t a single person in the audience – yet everyone is ready to complain about the decisions made there. I have found every single MP, MLA and Councillor in New Westminster is approachable and reasonable and will listen to ideas from constituents. I have agreed with some, disagreed with more, but they all had time for me. Some even reach out to me asking my opinion. Is this because I am special or “connected”? No. It is because I have reached out to them in the past to ask questions. Apparently this is so rare, so unusual even in a proactive community like New Westminster, that it stands out as remarkable.
Above that, democracy is not just about elected officials. It is about the Citizenry running the country. There is hardly a week that goes by that you can’t take part in a consultation or outreach meeting – directly helping your government make decisions. As I write, the City is seeking feedback on their Master Transportation Plan, on their Sustainability Framework, there are Residents Associations Meetings coming up this month. Many Council Advisory Committees struggle to get enough volunteers to assure quorum at meetings – where is everyone? Translink and Metro Vancouver are holding public meetings right now where the future of our region will be decided. Care about Coal? There are meetings coming up over that. Care about Tankers? The Process to approve that project is starting up right now. Want to find a group to discuss and learn about these issues and more? How about the NWEP? Think the voting system sucks? There have been people beating that drum for years – instead of wringing your hands at home or commenting on your favourite Social Media site, why not get in touch with them and help make the change you want to see?
Democracy is about those who show up: not on voting day, but every day. So if you don’t like what happened yesterday, what are you doing about it?
I walked home last night disappointed and disenchanted. Today was a glum day, but I had to think deep about how to turn it positive. So far, the best way I have thought to react is this: I’m not going to get discouraged. I am going to keep fighting for what is important to me and my community. Today I joined a Party (for the first time in a decade), and I will start taking more of a role in how that party operates. Instead of just helping out during the election, I am going to help build the Party into something that can win, and deserves to win.
When I don’t like something, I try to change it – that is my Democratic duty.
What are you going to do?