Saturday, October 15, 2011

Voter turn-out falling "like a stone" in Canada (Ibbitson)..little wonder!

By John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail, October 15, 2011
Voter turn-out declining, "like a stone" according to Ibbitson.
Recent provincial, territorial and federal elections saw the following turn-outs:
                                                              Ontario...49%
                              Newfoundland and Labrador...58%
                                         Prince Edward Island...76%
                                                           Manitoba...56%
                                                              Canada...61%
All of these figures are well below previous figures for the same jurisdictions.
A study for Elections Canada published earlier this year found that as each new cohort reaches the age of 18 and becomes eligible to vote, its members participate in fewer numbers than the cohort that came before. Only a third of first-time voters today are actually voting, half the rate of a generation ago.

Statistics Canada asked Canadians who didn’t vote in last May’s federal election – where turnout was a near-record low of 61 per cent – what kept them away. Twenty-eight per cent said they just weren’t interested. Twenty-three per cent were too busy. The rest said they were out of town, ill or didn’t like any of the candidates.

lections Canada is hoping to launch a pilot project using Internet voting, perhaps during the next by-election. Marc Mayrand, Canada’s chief electoral officer, thinks it might encourage some people to vote who are out of town, far from polling booths or who have mobility issues.

“But whether it will change the turnout dramatically in elections, I think that would be putting hopes far too high,” he said in an interview.
Samara, a non-profit that studies and promotes citizen engagement, recently convened eight focus groups of people who don’t vote.
Heather Bastedo, who conducted the focus groups, says most people said the same thing. “They feel a sense of powerlessness,” she reported. “They’ve absorbed the lesson that they can’t effect change.”
The less educated they are, the lower their income, the less engaged they are in social or other media, the less likely people are to vote.
(Ibbitson points to a dramatic rise in young voter turnout in 2008 when Obama became president, as well as a rise in the Toronto vote earlier this year, when then candidate Rob Ford promised to lower taxes. Change the messenger and change the message and voters seem to show up at polls, is one of Ibbitson's observations.)
Let's look a little more closely at Ms Bastedo's observation:
“They feel a sense of powerlessness,” she reported. “They’ve absorbed the lesson that they can’t effect change.”

The less educated they are, the lower their income, the less engaged they are in social or other media, the less likely people are to vote.
Political parties are like other organizations seeking to get the biggest bang for the smallest buck. With limited numbers of contributors and limited amounts in many of their donations, the focus of each political party is to "get out their vote"..and not to waste time with those whose votes are questionable. So much energy is dedicated by mostly volunteers to anyone who, regardless of how 'token' the support, indicates a preference for "our" candidate. That means that there is little energy from the parties to enlarge the voting base generally.
In fact, we often read that political parties "hope" for a bad-weather voting day, so voter turnout will remain low, and more likely result in a return to office of the encumbents.
Then there is the usual advantage on the encumbent side, given the repeated use of their names in news stories over the past four years, so at least most people who could vote will have heard those names.
Here is an example of how many of us felt, while casting a ballot in the last Ontario election.
(By  David Berlin, Globe and Mail, October 14, 2011)
In last week's provincial election in Ontario, I held my nose and voted for the incumbent.
What irked me was not his integrity or dedication to public service, both well-proved, but that along the way, this once-bright-eyed idealist had been slapped by his party to show him who was boss. After a one-year stint as minister, he was chucked out of office. From that day on, he become party property. A conscionable person became a mouthpiece who stuck out his nose only to be led by it – a hack.
Worse, this hollowing out is commonplace – the fate of all those who pursue their ideals through our party system.

In Canada, the only exceptions are to be found in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, which have managed to keep political parties out of their legislatures. Municipal politics sometimes seem party-free, but in most places, some councillors and hard-nosed city mayors usher parties in through the back door. In Toronto these days, you are either for or against the Conservative-aligned Ford brothers. Unaffiliated councillors who make up the mushy middle are relics of the past.
Also, over the last twenty or thirty years, the policy input from the ordinary voter has largely been replaced by the "professional" civil service, whose expertise, linked with their history of mentoring their political masters and their academic qualifications make them far more expert than "ordinary people. Another replacement of "ordinary voter" preference emerges from polling data, given the volcanic eruptions of dozens of these companies especially with the equally explosive amount of data available from all forms of technology. Even our cell phone companies are collecting our habits, for their own commercial purposes.
So, if and when you get that proverbial call from "Harris Decima" for example, you know they are calling for their client(s) to gather information that can and will be used by those clients, especially the political parties, to shape both policy and message in the upcoming campaign.
And, if anyone wonders about feelings of powerlessness, we just have to look at Zucotti Park in New York city, where a tent city speaks volumes to the feelings of disaffection, disillusionment, alienation and, yes powerlessness of ordinary, often quite educated and often also unemployed people of all ages.
(By Jeremy Torobin, Globe and Mail, October 15, 2011)
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and other expressions of frustration with the global economic and financial system highlight the need for policy makers to show they are serious about forcing change, Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney says.

In a television interview, Mr. Carney acknowledged that the movement is an understandable product of the ``increase in inequality’’ – particularly in the United States – that started with globalization and was thrust into sharp relief by the worst downturn since the Great Depression, which hit the less well-educated and blue-collar segments of the population hardest.
"You’ve had a big increase in the ratio of CEO earnings to workers on the shop floor,’’ Mr. Carney said, according to a transcript of the interview with Peter Mansbridge of CBC News, parts of which aired on Friday evening. "And then on top of that, a financial crisis.’’
So, compared to marking a ballot with an "X" beside a name, indicating a preference for a political party and candidate, pitching a tent, opening a thermal sleeping bag and joining hundreds if not thousands of others, no matter how disjointed the movement may appear in its early stages, is far more "activist" and engaging.
And potentially, far more effective in getting some notice for the 99% who refuse to be dominated by the 1%.
As Chris Hedges notes, "the elites are in trouble"...and they should be.
(By Chris Hedges, on truthdig.com, October 9, 2011)
The lords of finance in the looming towers surrounding the park, who toy with money and lives, who make the political class, the press and the judiciary jump at their demands, who destroy the ecosystem for profit and drain the U.S. Treasury to gamble and speculate, took little notice of Ketchup or any of the other scruffy activists on the street below them. The elites consider everyone outside their sphere marginal or invisible. And what significance could an artist who paid her bills by working as a waitress have for the powerful? What could she and the others in Zuccotti Park do to them? What threat can the weak pose to the strong? Those who worship money believe their buckets of cash, like the $4.6 million JPMorgan Chase gave* to the New York City Police Foundation, can buy them perpetual power and security. Masters all, kneeling before the idols of the marketplace, blinded by their self-importance, impervious to human suffering, bloated from unchecked greed and privilege, they were about to be taught a lesson in the folly of hubris.

Even now, three weeks later, elites, and their mouthpieces in the press, continue to puzzle over what people like Ketchup want. Where is the list of demands? Why don’t they present us with specific goals? Why can’t they articulate an agenda?
The goal to people like Ketchup (one of the participants) is very, very clear. It can be articulated in one word—REBELLION. These protesters have not come to work within the system. They are not pleading with Congress for electoral reform. They know electoral politics is a farce and have found another way to be heard and exercise power. They have no faith, nor should they, in the political system or the two major political parties. They know the press will not amplify their voices, and so they created a press of their own. They know the economy serves the oligarchs, so they formed their own communal system. This movement is an effort to take our country back.
This is a goal the power elite cannot comprehend. They cannot envision a day when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and unfettered capitalism are natural law, some kind of permanent and eternal dynamic that can never be altered. What the elites fail to realize is that rebellion will not stop until the corporate state is extinguished. It will not stop until there is an end to the corporate abuse of the poor, the working class, the elderly, the sick, children, those being slaughtered in our imperial wars and tortured in our black sites. It will not stop until foreclosures and bank repossessions stop. It will not stop until students no longer have to go into debt to be educated, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay medical bills. It will not stop until the corporate destruction of the ecosystem stops, and our relationships with each other and the planet are radically reconfigured. And that is why the elites, and the rotted and degenerate system of corporate power they sustain, are in trouble. That is why they keep asking what the demands are. They don’t understand what is happening. They are deaf, dumb and blind.
In Canada, where every political story is sanitized, if not homogenized into just another political "mess" but certainly not serious enough to become agitated over, we risk, as does Ibbitson's column, reducing the problem to a manageable, "statistical" and "merely a generational thing".
That is like saying, of a person who is a complete control freak, "She certainly lacks social graces!"
The Hedges rhetoric, unlike the Ibbitson "establishment" rhetoric, faces the problem head-on; calls a spade a shovel, points to the "elite" whose support and encouragement all journalists require in order to continue to do their job, so, as Evan Solomon says in the commercial for Power and Politics, "We've never had people say that coming on our show was unfair; it may have been hard, but not unfair."
And so the establishment continues to blather on, as most of Solomon's guests do, with occasional insightful observations by the pundits, whose job is not dependent on the voters directly.
Canada needs more public comments and commentators like Hedges, and Keith Olbermann (currently on Connect TV in the U.S. but so far as I can tell, unavailable in Canada) speaking truth to power from the left.
This voter apathy, powerlessness, alienation may seem merely statistical to Ibbitson and others; in our view, it is far more serious, as is the detached, and 'establishment' and "politically correct" culture in Canada that produces stories like the one last night on CBC's The National, about the cover-up by politicians of all political parties, of the expenses of Members of Parliament.
The Board of Interior Management, a group of MP's charged with oversight of the expenses of their peers...
has to be one of the most heinous holdovers from the feudal days of centuries past. It is time to dismantle the Board and leave the job to the Auditor General. But don't hold your breath.
Just another of many pieces of evidence that voters have no real influence whether they vote or not.
(I invite your comments, via e-mail to jta@kingsston.net)

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