Friday, May 13, 2011

The politics of politics

On Monday May 2nd Canada went to the polls and for the first time in around 7 years Canada has a majority government.  If you are unfamiliar with the structure of Canadian Parliament, there is information here that may be useful for you.  Pretty quickly after the polls were closed in British Columbia the results started to be broadcasted and were becoming clear rather quickly.  While I must confess up front that it was not my party of choice that was elected, it was interesting reading the comments on Twitter, many of them negative about the results.

There was frustration with the fact that a party would have a majority of the seats despite the fact that they only had around 40% of the popular vote.  There was frustration with the feeling that at times voters were not voting for someone they agreed with politically but rather who would have the best chance of beating the person they least wanted in.  Many comments were directed around that BC seemed to have little effect on the overall results because of time difference.  There were also the usual outbursts of corruptness, ethics, personalities and so on.

I am not enough of an expert on the different possible ways that voting can happen, but in every system there is a flaw.  Some systems by design limit the amount of choice someone has when voting, others give rise to parties who may have extreme points of views and others require multiple voting which is taxing on people's time and the countries financial resources.  No system is perfect.  My frustration revolves around what politics appear to have become. An incredible financial, ethical and environmental disaster.

The environmental one is staggering.  How many times are the leaders in an airplane or a bus going from one town to another, one province to another. Towards the end of the campaign the leaders of the different parties seem to spend a ridiculous amount of time flying all over.  I wonder if they have to pay a carbon tax?  The signs that are posted on lawns, abandoned properties and meridians all over the place all need to be thrown out.  What kind of message are we sending to kids with the amount of waste that is produced?  It is quite shocking to think about how many of the pamphlets, mail, brochures and signs are going to end up in the dump or elsewhere.  I cannot even begin to fathom the ecological dammage done, and especially when you consider that 3 of the 4 major parties supposedly have a green platform.

The financial one to me is more distressing.  How many millions of dollars are spent on the campaigns?  The way that elections are now run from signage to transportation to commercials to conventions it is impossible to not discuss money. It appears to be impossible to take part in an election without huge fundraisers.  With everything going on in our country from childhood poverty to unemployment, education and health care is there not a better way for this money to be spent than on the signage and commercials?

I also wonder how much is funded by taxpayers?  To be honest I don't know the answer to this question, but there has to be a portion of campaigning that comes from the tax base.  I don't know about others but I would much rather see that money being spent on healthcare rather than a panflet that tells me what a great party each one is.  If there is to be tax dollars spent on elections campaigns then I would like to see it benefit the tax payers in terms of information, more on this later.

With respect to campaign finances, when you are depending on people and organizations giving you money, are you entirely free to make decisions that are best for the country or province?  With this system in place, does this not essentially mean that every party is in someone's backpocket?  What is their influence on decisions?  If someone/some group has made a substantial donation, would some of them not expect to see something in return?  Does this not, at the very least in appearance, compromise the integrity of the party?  It is unfortunate that we look at the list of donors and the decisions and too often find situations that come off looking suspicious.  It is entirely possible that this it was a decision that was done for the best interests of the country, but the smell is still there.  Ridings with MPs of the majority party seem to be rewarded for voting a certain way.  With this much money involved and the need for MPs to keep their seats, decisions too often do not seem to pass the smell test.

What are some limitation that I would like to see?
1) The number of times a leader can visit a province and region.  If you trust the candidates that are representing each reason then you should not have to be there as much.   In the Greater Vancouver Area there are MPs who are prominent, well respected and known.  James Moore, Libby Davies and, before he was defeated, Ujjal Dosanjh.  Like any good company, you need to have people you can trust to deliver your message.  Why does there appear to be so little trust in the ridings representatives?

2) The platforms should be available to all, and the leader can be given a way to deliver that platform.  Networks could have an evening special with the leaders of all parties who have over x% of the popular vote where they could explain their platforms.  Debates are currently done on two nights, one in French and one in English.  Debates should be regional and not language based.  The Maritimes have their needs, the Prairies have their needs, BC has theirs.  Each region, or better yet province, should be able to hear how each parties' platform will benefit them.  This is where the tax dollars should go, an opportunity for the canadian citizens to learn about what each of the major parties represent in order to make an informed decision.

3) Signage should only be allowed on private property, not on meridians, curbs or abandoned lots.  They need to be made of recyclable material.

4) Stronger Campaign financing and expenditures limitations in place including annual donations from groups and individuals.  If we are to trust our political system then we must have greater confidence in the integrity of the decisions.

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