Politics is one of the oldest and dirtiest jobs in the world. Wherever there’s a chance to manipulate humankind and make decisions emotionally, the risk of doing people wrong and dirty increases exponentially. In a perfect world, politics is entrusting a well-intentioned someone to lead and manage a group of people by looking after their best interest and their financial and physical health (to a degree). This leader – the face of the people – builds their team with sub-leaders to help represent the nation and collaborate on issues. Finally, there are always critics to ensure accountability. Unfortunately, human behaviour and emotions are inevitable flaws – and highly unpredictable – making politics the world’s dirtiest game.
People are likely to follow those who appear to have lived similar experiences and consequences. Someone once told me, “people make decisions emotionally, then later backfill their decision with logic,” meaning it’s more than likely we attempt to make a shoe fit rather than finding a shoe that fits us. Leaders understand this because, like us, they too are human and have emotions. And so, the trick for garnering support is to identify your majority audience and leverage their emotions through empathy. This is why political leaders sound so inspiring when they speak to their respective audiences. You may be thinking, yea, but Trump – or Biden – was an idiot. Well, they may have been an idiot to you; however, enough people – or idiots – felt heard.
Western democracy has long embedded the idea in people that political parties made up of regional representatives is the only way to achieve democracy. The moment a party leader inspires you, you default to thinking that the party as a whole represents your needs. Suddenly, you’re loyal to this party regardless of who succeeds this leader. But I’d like to challenge this thought and ask you, “What is so democratic about being bound to a political party for life?” Seldom do we hear of people crossing the floor – switching political sides – because leadership has decided to take the party in a different direction. People blindly follow because they’re complacent, the other parties aren’t any better, and because its frowned upon and very much negatively stigmatized to cross the floor. You’re viewed as a traitor among your family, peers, and community. Ironic, isn’t it, that a view so intimate and personal that one must vote in private is yet very much so public? However, what if I told you the only way to democracy is by crossing the floor? What if democracy is about openly holding your once-loved party accountable by showing them that they have deceived and disappointed you? Let me tell you a story about a girl who refused to make an existing shoe fit and went on to find her own shoe.
I voted because…
I cast my first vote in 2008 but hadn’t given it much thought. I was 19, and my parents told me to vote Liberal because the Liberal Party of Canada is the “party for immigrants.” I’d hear Stephane Dion in the background, pale and clammy, anxious, making neither sense in English nor French, and wonder how this guy represented immigrants. Nonetheless, I voted Liberal just because a) I could vote, and b) I wasn’t bothered to question my parents’ reasoning.
My interest in politics started about ten years ago while I was reviewing my student loans and wondered how stupid it was that I had to pay this all back eventually. Members of Parliament (MP), Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff, shook up the House of Commons and declared an election war on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minority government. I wanted free education, and Layton promised just that. Ignatieff, arrogant as ever – typical quality for a Liberal MP, to be honest – was hoping the New Democratic Party (NDP) supporters would see the Liberal-NDP coalition as their leader endorsing him as opposed to the other way around. And so he didn’t feel the need to make promises because he figured people would default to voting Liberal or Conservative. And so the slogan of the impromptu election that year was ABC, “Anything but Conservative.” The issue (or the upside depending on who you support) with that slogan was Ignatieff, presumptuous as ever, thinking it translated to “Only Liberal.” Jack Layton and the NDP were the true winners of that election despite giving Harper a majority government that forced us to swallow his leadership for another four years. You can thank Michael Ignatieff – who hid in the US following his embarrassing defeat – for putting the NDP on the map. After all these years of hiding in the shadows, the “Federal” NDP had a shot at being the opposition, and I proudly voted for them.
Real Change (Now)
I was 26 years old when, at the time, MP for Papineau (Quebec), Justin Trudeau, emerged as the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. The Liberal Party slumped to the bottom and were slapped with shame after the NDP defeated them for the opposition role. So, it came as no surprise they appointed a celebrity trust-fund baby as their leader. Two losers in a row and a pissing contest later, the Liberals had to be dramatic, and so out came the Ace in their pocket: former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s son, Justin-with-the-good-hair.
Justin Trudeau, now Prime Minister, did have great hair. He was also charming, charismatic, and knew exactly what to say and how to say it. His appearance as a leader was actually quite serendipitous: the recession period was over, which meant we no longer needed to penny-pinch, the economy needed some stimulation, Harper was ageing, and even he could see how eccentric he was becoming. When I look back at the 2015 election, I can see how tired Harper was and didn’t give it his all. His campaign manager was also a moron, but that’s beside the point. Trudeau was fresh-off-the-boat, eager to please, and did what he knew best to do: act. More importantly, people did want some form of change. Even if they weren’t fooled into thinking that the politics would change, they would at least see a fresh new face representing us on the global stage. I will admit, I didn’t buy into Trudeau’s crap. I really couldn’t. New NDP Leader, Tom Mulcair, also didn’t tickle my fancy. By then, I had understood the risks of investment and borrowing money. I had become fiscally conservative with my family budget; I guess you could say I just didn’t trust the budget to balance itself.
What do I need? What do I want?
Many Canadians take offence when they hear of Canadians who don’t vote because there are people who fought for our right to vote and many other freedoms. At least that’s how they justify their petty anger when, in fact, they so desperately get caught up in their blind loyalty to a party that they want everyone else to vote the same as them. I’ve seen Canadians enraged by new Canadians on Election Day when they opt out of voting. Ugh, for the love of God Almighty, the poor kid’s only been Canadian for five minutes! So imagine how these same Canadians feel when they hear one of their own has crossed the floor and voted for someone else? There is one major problem when one is shackled to a political party:
There’s no accountability. People who follow blindly can fool themselves into thinking they can change a party from within, but that’s not how politics works today. Little do you know, your blind faith means you’re working for the party, not the other way around. You keep voting for them anyway, and so why should they change for you?
Western Democracy is flawed if we’re bound to only two or three political ideologies. It’s not fair to force everyone into thinking either-or or black or white. Life is not binary as we’re now beginning to see thanks to technology and globalization. I should be allowed to believe that social services are necessary to protect the vulnerable while wanting to hold a government fiscally responsible. I should also be able to vote practically and not have my heartstrings tugged by some charismatic drama teacher who doesn’t know the first thing about a humble upbringing. Furthermore, your life experiences with time may change your perspective, your needs, and your wants. That said, you may spend your entire life supporting a party and all its leaders unconditionally, and that’s OK too. My only ask of you is to think about yourself and whether you’re genuinely being represented by those you support. Take a moment, close your eyes, strip out the emotional impulse, and consider your options the next time we have an election. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now? What do I want? Do they care?”