Am I Political?

Politics is a bad word and no one says they love politics. Sadly, the word has devolved to imply you love mud-slinging and lies. But loads of people love the run-up to elections, the drama, the rise to power, and how the mighty fall. With Canada and the US leading up to elections, ours in just two weeks, I struggle with showing my true colours. But I truly care about how my country is governed, and I welcome entering into conversations about it.

Politics is polarizing, and the electoral process heightens that. Parties and candidates have to distinguish themselves from one another by making statements that cause people to align with them or reject them. Or they waffle to avoid extremes, which can lead to charges of weakness.

In the workplace, I have learned to be political – to influence opinion, to cause some ideas to succeed and others to fail, to decide when to think short-term and when to think long-term, to form alliances and to allocate budgets to support my goals. I think every avenue in life is political to that degree, whether it’s at work or at home with family or deciding the future of one’s book club. Some of the skills we use to do these things are the same as politicians’: leadership, charisma, pandering, or plain old research and documentation.

I can see the appeal of small clans of like-minded people forming a closed community and doing everything for themselves. But most of us want the benefits of interacting with a larger society: trading labour with other groups so we don’t have to perform every job in the world, access to materials from further away, and modern conveniences like health care and hospitals and fresh food in season. We hand over some of our personal and community power so our government will do those things in ways that are acceptable to us.

I care very much about how my government chooses to do them. If every promise or statement made on the campaign trail is compiled, we get either a platform – which provides a framework for action – or a bunch of vague and random quotes. How do we know which is which? Our political parties often publish their platforms and are (theoretically) held accountable to them.

The next way to tell, of course, is by their track record – how have they performed in the past?

Then we can ask:

  • What have they done for us, in our own neighbourhoods?
  • What have they not done, that needs doing?
  • Who, or what party, is more likely to act? At what cost?

In Canada, we don’t vote for our prime minister. We only vote for our local candidates. The party with the greatest number of elected candidates forms the government. (Of course that is a simplification). The person who was elected leader at the party convention becomes the prime minister. So it is very possible for us to love and vote for our local, on-the-ground MP while knowing little about the future PM that we are voting for indirectly. The alternative is voting for the national leader’s political party, regardless of our local candidate, but that can lead to poor representation at the community level. Every Canadian voter is torn by that decision and wildly hopes for good people at both levels.

I am the strangest kind of political animal since I am not a party member and I don’t widely talk about my beliefs or promote any candidates. Yet I care very much about who gets in and what they do. You need only check the “About” page of this blog to know my outlook, and I am happy to chat about my own choices with readers or friends. Some would say I am letting my team down. I would rather take the Librarian Approach. That is, to provide information, as unbiased as possible, to encourage voting and to help others make their own informed decisions.

Once I was teaching a computer class to a group of young women, and an election was looming. One of them asked me how I was voting, and without thinking, I blurted out my choice. I immediately realized the mistake I’d made – I was acting in a professional capacity, and I should have taken the opportunity to turn the tables and ask her a few questions about whether she had voted before, and if she felt comfortable voting, and what her thoughts were. I learned my lesson, and in both my personal and professional life, I like to explore “where the other person is at” and learn about how they think. I would ask:

  • What issues do you care about?
  • What do you think should happen to get/keep Canada on track?
  • Are you planning to vote?
  • If not, how will you feel if prime minister A, B, C or D gets in?
  • How do you like your local person, little a, b, c or d?
  • If you are planning to vote, do you know who you will vote for?
  • If not, what will help you decide? What information do you need to make up your mind?
  • If you have decided, what do you like about your candidate or their party?

So now I will ask you:

Where do you see yourself on the political scale, or the citizen scale, or the community scale – do you get involved in “politics” when elections are afoot?

I’d love to know how you feel about any of the questions above!

Canadians: take the quiz at canada.isidewith.com !

and for ongoing, intelligent political discussions, visit Keith and Chris!

14 comments

  1. When it comes to politics, the adjectives that best describe me are environmentalist, libertarian, and urbanist. I don’t agree with all of the policies of any political party, but the NDP and Green Party are most closely aligned with the future of Canada I want. I’ll be voting NDP this election, largely because of their environmental platform and their promise to bring in proportional representation if they win.

  2. Being an independent is no longer a rarity, as there are a significant number down here in the US, which I am one. I have always defined myself as fiscally conservative but socially progressive person, so I don’t fit neatly fit in either major political camp here. A key reason I blog is to focus on the issues which seem to get lost or vastly oversimplified in politics. Thanks for sharing, Keith

    • I tend not to think much about independent candidates since they are rare here – usually when someone leaves their party and decides to run for office anyway. During campaigns, I would say all issues are oversimplified – everyone wants their soundbites. It’s discouraging when “politics” never goes beyond that.

  3. I tend to vote for the most leftist democrat I can find, although sometimes that is a contradiction in terms.
    I was very happy to vote for Mayor de Blasio after all those terms of Republican “law and order and the hell with civil rights tell it to the judge” mayors (Guiliani and Bloomberg).

  4. Fiona

    I really like your parallels between national politics and personal politics in the workplace or household. I try to be fair and ethical in my political moves at work, but I definitely do (consciously) play my cards in certain ways to try to maximise the benefits for my students and to improve my own work conditions.

    Mr D and I have been following the Canadian elections with interest, especially since there’s so many parallels with Australian politics at the moment, with things like the response to immigration/refuges, funding of higher education, increase of surveillance powers in relation to terrorism etc.

    It is always quite surprising as Australians to see other places where voting is option. Here, it is a legal requirement, backed by reasonably steep financial fines if you do not show up to the polls. As a result, it is extremely rare not to vote. There is a general community expectation that people will be reasonably informed about politics.

    • I didn’t know that voting is mandatory in Australia. I can’t imagine that ever happening here. The regular voters would probably be afraid of the new voters and accuse them of being uninformed and spoiling the results! Sad that apathy has to be a right, too 😦

  5. Canadian politics always seems so civil compared to politics in the US. Our elections feature divisive characters (Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are currently the front runners for president…what are people thinking???), mean political ads that you can’t escape the closer it gets to the election (literally 24/7 on all TV stations), and a dismal voter turn out rate (17% in our last local election). While I will be voting as I always do, I don’t have much confidence in our current slate of presidential candidates :I

    • The voter turnout last time around was 61% which we thought was terrible. It will probably be lower this time because laws and procedures have changed to make it harder to register to vote, to change your address, or to prove your identity. Our election campaigns are getting more like yours, depending on the candidates. I do think we have some good ones in the mix, though. You have another year to sort it out!

  6. Apparently I side with the Liberals… I was swaying towards PC to be honest earlier, but now i’m swaying again. I usually vote NDP, but don’t think I will this time. I have 2 weeks to make up my mind… we shall see!

  7. I’m defintiely political – in the sense of engaging in power in the work place but also in the sense of really enjoying state politics. My husband and oldest son also love reading, watching and talking about our political leaders. My youngest doesn’t follow it at all and asks naive, immature questions which always make us laugh. Like, “Which side is our premier on? Do we go for thst side?”

    I took the guiding questionnaire and though I do know much about Canadian politics I came up New Democratic, Green and Communist. Sounds about me.

    Though I never tell students or parents how I vote, I do talk about issues of equity and fairness and kindness and compassion.

    • I have friends and co-workers who are much more political than I am, by volunteering for their party, promoting candidates, attending events, and working at the polls on election day. I am moderately well-informed but less active. If anyone makes comments about our government’s track record or plan of action, I like to gently correct them if I believe their facts aren’t valid!

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