Sunday, November 12, 2006

Initiative

One of the questions I find most amusing at candidate debates during the election campaign is the inevitable variation on the refrain, "if elected, how will you get more people interested in municipal politics?" The question of course refers implicitly, and sometimes directly, to the poor turnout of voters in local elections — around 35 per cent of eligible voters in recent history — which is a fair enough phenomenon about which to wonder. But demanding an answer of candidates supposes not only that politicians can or should do something about it, but also that increasing raw vote counts are ends in themselves, or more precisely that democracy is an end in itself and one whose success is measured entirely in the number of marches made to polling booths on occasion every few years. In any case, candidates seeking the authority of democratic "representativeness" are simultaneously flattered by the premises behind the question and dazzled by its unanswerability according to those premises, and every time they energetically return utter bafflegab about town hall meetings or open door policies… as if the same people who would bother politicians in their office or at meetings are not the same people who already bother to vote. The smoothest return, of course, is made by incumbent mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best who unfalteringly touts the ease of the city's new advance polls in shopping malls, as if to encourage idle "hey, what's in that booth" voting… although that could never be a bad thing if you're an incumbent with name recognition.

What is forgotten, by both the questioners and candidates, is that politicians can no more create political interest than they themselves can create jobs or economic opportunities — the most and the best that they can do is to avoid creating obstacles to its development. When the city takes it upon itself the initiative to govern and control more and more aspects of civic, economic or social life, it is not to be wondered that citizens begin to surrender their own initiatives on any of those scores.

1 Comment:

David MacLean said...

Well said! Brilliant!