By Bob Hepburn, Toronto Star, February 24, 2011
William Cross and Lisa Young, two political scientists who have written extensively on political parties, argue we should all be concerned that party affiliations and loyalties are falling.
“Party membership is a form of public service and thus contributes to the vibrancy of political life in the country,” they write.
The result of reduced relevancy of parties will be greater volatility at the polls, more polarized policies, more catering to special-interest voters, and greater reliance on money instead of volunteers.
As long as politicians of all political stripes continue to "sell" themselves to the highest bidder, and permit their political causes to be taken over by their political/fiscal masters, then it is the donors who are effectively shaping policy, and even legislation and consequently the cultural and political landscape of the country.
It is not only the sale of the individual politician that is troubling, but also the purchase of lobbyists by those seeking political influence, the large corporations in sectors needing relief from legislation, that brings cynicism and apathy to the political process.
There is a third dynamic that separates the people who form the inner circle of the various political parties from the "people" of the society. And that dynamic can be called a natural development: the right of those who have paid their dues, in terms of time and money to the local party association, from those who may be newly interested in the riding association and the processes dedicated to the emergence of national policy ideas.
A fourth dynamic that impedes engagement is the basic human reticence, unless one is personally committed to seek a specific political office, to take leadership in any organization where the established culture points fingers and promotes behind-the-back personal references to those in leadership, not to mention the hyper-extension of this "gossip" in the media focused on all political candidates.
Another observation, at least from the last decade, that might make it difficult to recruit new members to a political party's riding association is that, when we look at what is being done in the actual government, we have to wonder about the capacity to balance personal political ambition with national interests...and we are struck, at least with the current federal government with the spectacle of a group of mostly men who believe that through their leader, they are on the verge of taking a majority after five years of minority, who are pandering to their corporate puppeteers/financiers/fundraisers and who seem to be a little like teflon, given the impact on their futures of severe legitimate criticism from the media pundits.
Canada has no environmental policy worth mentioning, when the world is more than aware of the implications of the science of global warming.
Canada has no interest in a policy of war-mongering, and yet the government insists it must spend $20 billion for fighter jets.
Canada has a dismal record in both foreign policy and social policy, yet the government insists on a $6 billion tax break for corporations whose primary motive is profit, not social utility.
The government has no national strategy for working with the provinces, for enhancing national health care, for balancing competing interests in the international complexities of geopolitics, and no measure of its own and the country's potential for mediation on the international scene, a role our country has excelled in promoting and bringing to fruition in the past.
It is absolute power, plus the demise of the Liberal opponents, that motivates this group, and while that has driven some of us to become more active, to support their failure to achieve their goal of a majority, and to move the country to a more humane and inclusive and regenerative and redemptive and more equal society, even those generalities need to be defined by those leading both Liberal and NDP parties, in order to better galvanize the uncommitted, the undecided and the millions of voters whose lives are already filled with other activities, until just before the vote, when a few highly sophisticated lines from the professional message-makers will either catch the public imagination or not, and linked to the occasional stubbed "toe" from a prominent politician, will swing the balance of voters in one direction or another.
There are so many atractive options, beside the flood of public opinion polls, to engage voters..and they include public debates, think tanks generating research, and a better diet of politial conversation from media talking heads who are not sycophants and who are not afraid of their editorial masters or their advertisers...and yet at all levels, there seems to be a kind of pandering to the notion of "being inscrutably nice" at all costs...so that our conversations lack both heat and light and our people consider the political arena closed to their "general" interests and level of engagement.
There is some truth to the adage that we get the government we deserve....apathy will bring out those seeking personal aggrandisement, not those seeking national enhancement of lives of both the nation and its people.
Political leaders who will risk their candidacy, and that of their party, for national goals that are clearly defined and sustainably promoted, in the clear interest of a more equal and just outcome will, like home-baked fresh bread, bring voters to attention....and slightly warmed-over watery soup will not bring many to the table of the national political debate.
Politicians must start from the premise that they are the nation's top chefs, of the national menu of policy ideas and national aspirations looking for clients who share such a national experience...not volunteer hacks feeding the starving with whatever seems available, (to serve their own needs) without a care for the nourishment of those they treat with disdain and even contempt.