Susan Delacourt, speaking on New Year's Day about her recent book on Canadian politics, Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them on CBC's Power and Politics, delivered an analysis that, we believe, applies not only to Canadian politics, but to too many interactions in our culture. Delacourt says that politicians, especially Harper conservative politicians, consider voters as shoppers, and thereby justify their focus in every public statement on their number one agenda item: the economy.
Transactional is a word that, tragically, defines so many of our interactions, from employer-employee, to doctor-patient, to lawyer-client, from private college owners-students....all of the assessments focus on the "pay-off" or the "cost" of the interaction.
Sadly, I once worked for a private career college in northern Ontario, the owner of which was a young man striving to become part of the community elite, analogous to the presidents of both the local university and the local community college. And even more tragically, the owner of the career college could not see past the "fees" he could generate from public funds for students seeking additional career credentials, using the federal government funds to fill seats. In a somewhat conflicted conversation, I attempted to focus the owner on his responsibility to his clients as "students" and not as consumers.
There is no doubt that this owner had no concept of the complexity of the education process, and tilted his operation toward one singular motive: profit, at the expense of the learning process of his students, none of whom he knew or cared to know, in the complex and subtle "business" in which his operation was engaged.
He had taken no education toward achieving his own understanding of the complexities of education; he had invested no time and energy in learning any of the advantages he could have been able to provide, especially when compared with competitors, if he were to have offered individual coaching, career assessments, learning styles, and even learned the prospect's learning history. Filling seats, generating advertising and marketing programs that attempted to vacuum up unemployed candidates from the streets, or the occasional transitional candidate seeking to add business credentials to a general arts degree.
In short, this business operation was nothing more than a corner store of meagre and often irrelevant an redundant 'skills development' all of which was being doing much more successfully at the local community college, in an environment that could be described as "a learning atmosphere" with faculty trained in their subject expertise, often with post-graduate degrees, in addition to teaching experience. Ten or twelve weeks of exposure to this "career college" atmosphere could do very little to render its "graduates" more worthy of employment or of additional training.
Pay your fee, show up in class, and grab that certificate, pin it on the wall, and wait for the phone to ring from a prospective employer...easily summed up the business model. It could not be included in any discussion of "learning models"....and its owner was despicably engaged in filling his own bank account, with public funds, 'donated' over the names of 'consumers' without any form of monitoring, on behalf of the public.
Harper's transforming the political process into little more than a visit to the supermarket, fits well with his reductionistic approach to purchasing political power through extensive fund raising, even more exhaustive marketing and advertising even using public dollars to promote his "Action Canada" program for job creation, the contents of which program have escaped most of those who have researched the details of the program. It also seriously insults the voters, painting them as "easily seduced" and without a memory or a set of values to which they are committed, and thereby easily purchased, if only the message is controlled, through the intensive repetition of stock phrases like "law and order" a "strong economy" and "doing better than all other countries" after the 2008 recession.
What is true about the Delacourt analysis is that voters no longer hold a high degree of political party loyalty, and are therefore merely shopping in an "a la carte" manner for the various "goodies" offered to them by the parties.
For the 2015 election, the political party and leader who takes the voters seriously, not reducing them to mere 'consumers' fixated on their pocket books, leaving all the many complexities of the federal government's responsibilities aside, and succumbing to the seduction of a "rock star" (Justin Trudeau) or the blatant manipulation through seductive advertising (Harper) could reclaim the substance ground, the relationship ground that is required for a country to function in the modern world where and when there are many different and complex issues facing all governments.
Harper would consider an electorate of those private career college owners, and their consumers filling seats one he could easily win because both have reduced the process of learning and living to a sham, as he has reduced the process of governing a modern country in a dangerous and rapidly transforming world.