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Nabi: Why Let a Good Election Go to Waste?

July 17, 2011
If this election's going to mean something, we need to move past talking points and stump speeches. (Image courtesy Rocco Rossi)

If this election's going to mean something, we need to move past talking points and stump speeches. (Image courtesy Rocco Rossi)

The run-up to Ontario’s provincial election is kicking into gear as the major parties begin releasing their platforms. Over the next couple months, we can expect the onslaught of polls, photo-ops, and stump speeches that pundits love to analyze.

Politics, in its raw form, is about the way in which we govern ourselves. An election is an opportunity to put ideas to the test, to debate differences of opinion, and, at the end of it all, to allow an informed public to decide, collectively, how to move forward.

It’s a disturbing trend, then, to see the pre-election jostling play out more like an elaborate game of Risk than a real political contest. The focus is not political; it’s territorial. The NDP hopes to make gains in suburbia and the North with its promises of low gas prices and affordable heating bills. Some ridings, like Elgin-Middlesex-London, have become a three-way tug-of-war. In this situation, the candidates aren’t spending their time debating each other’s policies. Rather, they are trying to knock on as many doors as possible to secure votes before the other parties do the same.

There are huge issues on the table that are ripe for a substantive provincewide debate. Take the Canada-EU free trade agreement, for example. The provinces are heavily involved in the ongoing negotiations, and Ontario staffers have been meeting with EU representatives in Brussels for at least a year. Now, amid reports of an impasse in the negotiations, it’s time to reassess whether a free trade pact with Europe is in Ontario’s best interests. Whether or not it would be beneficial is a question that should be widely discussed in the political sphere; sadly, we’re hearing nothing on this front from the parties’ leaders.

Of course, there’s a simple reason that politicians – in Ontario and across the country – continue to play the geography game instead of winning voters over with policy. In the current electoral system, it pays to pander to a few ridings. Our winner-take-all voting framework discourages parties from investing resources in ridings that they have a slim chance of winning. The result is a plethora of “safe seats”, with a handful of swing ridings that become the battleground for incremental gains.

I’ll admit we’ve seen some policy statements around the HST and electricity prices, but the debate hasn’t matured past talking points and press releases.

So what conditions would make for a more substantive political debate, and a more informed voting population? For one, knowing that their vote will actually matter. Too many potential voters stay home on election day because in most ridings, the result is a foregone conclusion. A fairer electoral system – one that produces results closer to the popular vote – would give all Ontarians a voice, and would encourage politicians to focus on the province as a whole.

If this election is going to mean something, our political leaders are going to have to go off-script. Talking points and 30-second clips of propaganda don’t impress anyone, and I would wager that most of the general public sees very little difference between Tories, Liberals, and New Democrats at this stage of the game. But if one of these parties really wanted to give people something to vote for, they’d be pushing electoral reform.

Far from political suicide, as some may think, electoral reform is a big idea that challenges each party to define themselves in terms of policy, not geography. It’s a springboard for debate about the way we’re governed.

It’s true that a change to the voting system was rejected in 2007. But in the context of an election, it could prove to be a catalyst for frank discussion on a number of topics. Why let a good election go to waste?

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 22, 2011 7:59 pm

    it is disturbing that whomever shakes the most hands wins… but what does that say about voters? Maybe making a vote count more will help.

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