While the prospect of a federal election has retreated (for now), I don’t think there would be many surprised Canadians if we were sent to the polls in the very near future. When that happens, Canadians will be asked to choose, all too soon it seems, which party they want to represent them in the House of Commons. Over the past few weeks, the Liberals and Bloc have both unveiled ads which have been described as “election style,” while the NDP, fresh out of their non-name changing convention and stagnating in the polls have done their best (no doubt to the chagrin of their support base) to prop up the Conservative government.
Yet as Canadians, we really need to ask ourselves who it is that we’re choosing. How different, really, are Canadian political parties? Having just finished a year of university in the UK where I was very involved with their third party, the Liberal Democrats, it is clear to me that for all the faults of the British system — and it definitely has its faults — British voters will have a genuine choice when they go to the polls this coming spring just as American voters did last fall.
In Canada however, we can choose from the centrists, the centrists who oppose equal marriage rights, the centrists who used to be socialists, and, for the really desperate, the centrists who like the environment a lot. The only real exception is Quebec voters, who get to vote for the separatists who don’t actually talk about separatism anymore.
Seriously, if you can name me three specific policies that one of Canada’s major federal parties has enumerated which differ in any significant way from the others, you could be a federal party leader.
Personally, I’ll be voting Liberal in the upcoming election. Not because they’re so much better than the others, but because:
1) They aren’t dominated by right wing reactionaries;
2) They didn’t create a needless deficit after 13 years of budget surpluses by instituting a regressive populist tax cut (the 2 per cent GST cut);
3) Despite being behind in the polls, they actually have a hope in hell of getting elected, unlike their “New” Democrat colleagues
Pretty bleak, eh?
In a country like Canada where the majority of us are somewhere in the centre of the political spectrum already, the only hope for real choice and by extension, real progress, is to take policy and platform creation out of the hands of the party bosses and leaders and put it in the hands of convention delegates and party members. And I’m not talking about the occasional token policy motion that the bigwigs allow the members to think they had a say in passing by waving their placards around. I’m talking about all party policy being written, proposed, debated and voted on by party members. Just as important, the party leaders would be bound by these policies — again, the parties are (or should be) vehicles for popular opinion.
Trust me; this proposal is not nearly as crazy as it sounds. As citizens in a representative democracy, we should have a real say in how we are governed — besides simply sending a representative to Ottawa every few years. Sending politicians to Ottawa to do our thinking for us is simply not enough. Canadians need to take back ownership of our political parties from the Suits in the “Ottawa Bubble.” We Canadians are generally smart people; let’s show our politicians that we don’t need them to hold our hands — that we can, and should, have a direct and deciding voice in shaping the parties that represent us.
Corey Shefman has a Masters degree in political communication and is currently studying law at Robson Hall. He is a member of Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru.