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 !