Want to know what really ticks me off? People who don't vote in elections.
I recall people going to wars and risking their lives and sometimes even paying with their lives to give us this freedom. There was a time when women and blacks did not have the vote. When this was the issue, many women engaged in violence and civil disobedience to prove their point. Later on, another woman took her fight to the Supreme Court to argue that women were "persons" for the purposes of accepting an appointment to the Senate. Other women had to dress like and pretend they were men in order to engage in a profession of their choice ... this was during a time when women were not traditionally admitted to the higher paid professions, such as medicine, dentistry and law. It was sometimes found out only after the person had died and the mortician came to take the body, when it was learned that the "he" everybody believed the person was, was actually a "she".
One thing having a higher education did for me was to make me understand the history and the struggle behind things that too many people take for granted today. In one particular course I took, we were shown films that documented the lives of people who gave so much of themselves, including their lives, to a particular cause. As I continued my education, I did some studies in the historical and social psychological relevance of key events, such as the suffragette movement, the Holocaust and the French Revolution. While historical in their nature, understanding these issues helps us learn about the importance of similar struggles today. To me, these issues are all of the same fabric, but the technology is more advanced as we age as a human species.
There are a lot of people today that are trying to protest the war in Afghanistan. They say we should withdraw and bring our troops back home. Because of my learnings about the early struggles of modern humankind, I am not entirely against war. It was war that put the Nazis to their knees and freed the many European nations that Hitler attempted to take over. It was the Civil War in the United States that started the path to freedom for African Americans who were held there as slaves. I live in a part of the world where many slaves came to after the "underground railroad" was built as a means for many of them to escape before and during that war. Today, I still think the work we are doing in Afghanistan is worth something ... I think the people who should be answering whether the war is accomplishing anything are those that are involved, the thousands of soldiers and civilians who are on the grounds protecting the citizens of that country against the ravages of the Taliban and their remainders. I am one of those people who believe that Remembrance Day should mean something and that the veterans who return from these wars should be respected and their lives celebrated.
To argue that voting is a waste of your time, or that your vote doesn't make any difference doesn't persuade me. I can only envision the veterans of the first and second world wars, the leaders of the suffragette movement and those who built the underground railroad turn over in their graves as you casually disregard your duty. If you are truly disenchanted by the array of candidates presented on your ballot, the thing to do is take your ballot, fold it and return it to the Deputy Returning Officer at your polling station without marking it. This is called "rejecting your ballot", which still means you voted and your presence is recorded - even though you did not visibly support anybody on that ballot. At one time, I served many Elections as a poll clerk or deputy returning officer and we would always encounter one or two people throughout the day that did just that - rejected their ballot. We were required to strike out the voter's name and count that ballot as "rejected".
In addition to voting, I always believed in keeping active and keeping our leaders accountable. In modern days, elections are run quite differently than they were when I was directly involved in the the elections ... during this part of my life, I did everything from canvassing for a political candidate, raising funds for a political campaign, traveling throughout the riding to deliver literature and knock on doors. During one election, I was on crutches for a broken ankle, but I still hobbled my way door to door to speak to voters about the issues and to encourage them to vote for "my" candidate. I've also been involved with enumerations, which helped create the voter's list before every federal or provincial election. We would go door to door in pairs to ascertain the names of each resident who was eligible to vote in each household. We would often have to return a second or third time if a voter was not home to provide this information. I would then go home and actually type up voter's lists and submit them to my local Returning Office for posting. At the Advanced Polls, or on the Election Day itself, I also served a number of functions, whether that be scrutineering for a political candidate or remaining "neutral" and sticking to clerking at the polls.
In other functions, I actually met personally with political candidates or sent them surveys for various community groups I was involved with during the time. I would record the candidates' replies exactly as they delivered them and publish this information for people that wanted to know the positions that different parties took on issues. I would be involved with political parties - I was a member of two different parties at two very distinct and separate periods of my life. For one of the parties, I served on its executive and attended most party functions, such as policy and leadership conventions. For this party, I also served for a time as its riding association president. Much later in my life, I worked with and became part of regular political fundraising and social events for the second political party. Today, I am non-partisan, although I will attempt to serve and provide information to whoever gets into power. I've voted at least once in my life for all the major political parties, including one time when I voted for the Green Party.
Outside of electoral politics, I have served in a lobbying capacity on behalf of community organizations or my profession(s), a protester especially when I was young at heart and idealist in my culture, as well as a consultant to whatever Ministry or government department needed the type of services and advice I can offer. In my later years, after becoming non-partisan (from the radical centre, as I always like to call it), I provide consultation and assistance for community groups with respect to their communications with government or at times, as a direct consultant on specific projects. The one thing I know that doesn't change much in government is the function and role of the permanent bureaucracy. These are the people that are charged with carrying out decisions made by the government in power and in many cases, designing programs and services in response to Cabinet directives. In my working life, I enjoyed working in jobs that have occasionally brought me in contact with Cabinet Ministers and even the Leaders of political parties or Government. Through these functions, I have learned quite a bit about how democracy works.
I can't say I ever met a Cabinet Minister of any stripe that I intensely disliked. Individuals that achieve these positions of power are usually well trained to deal with a diversity of people and organizations. Most of them have also achieved a level of respect from the people who elected them in their own ridings. In fact, there were a number of them I actually liked and enjoyed meeting with. One thing to note, however, is that meeting any of these political leaders in real life is far different than reading about them through the media or hearing about them through the perspectives of others. You do develop a type of knowledge one can never obtain from any of the courses I took in school or from dealing with issues from the "outside". Despite the political affilitations and positions of many of these people, I do know that serving in their positions regardless of whether or not I like their policies is actually very difficult work. I remember attending a function that included the full Cabinet and Premier of one of our past provincial governments and meeting several of them. To me, these are all just people ... many of which are carrying a very high level of burden and responsibility.
Not only are these people responsible and accountable for everything that comes out of their respective offices, serving in the highly public capacity that they are in often creates friction with people on the "outside". If anybody thinks these conflicts do not impact on any of these people personally, they are dreaming in technicolour. Politics is a very public, as well as a personal responsibility. One mistep can cost a person their job. A major mistep that may not affect you or me either way can cost a politician their reputation and career. Think about Brian Mulroney. Many people remember this man as the "most hated Prime Minister in the history of Canada". I even remember one time when my husband and I went to visit with one of his relatives and a young girl (his niece?) was there watching television when a news story involving then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney came on. This girl turned to the TV and told us loudly that she "hated that man".
Can you IMAGINE what it is actually like to be a man in Mulroney's position which held a great deal of responsibility and certainly a need for caution, when a lot of people - including eight-year old little girls - are all pointing their fingers at you to say how much they hate you? My husband and I met Mulroney before. In real life, he is actually shorter than I envisioned him to be when I watched him on television. What I have learned at that time and in subsequent years is that these leaders are all just people ... much like you and me. I also had the occasion to enjoy a dinner function where I sat at the same table as Bob and Arlene Perly Rae while the NDP held power in Ontario. Again, these people are far different than they have ever been portrayed by the media. One thing all of our leaders have, regardless of political stripe, is the belief that they are truly doing some good. They don't want to believe they may sometimes create harm by some of their policies ... some of them are deeply sensitive to this type of attack, even though they have been trained not to show it. When something clicks in the minds of voters and these folks are literally tossed out of office, they all feel personally attacked. In fact, both Parliament and the Legislature provides a service to politicians who are tossed out of office to aid them in their career and personal transitions as a result of being voted out.
This brings me on to my next topic, which is the best way to "do" politics. Ontario had 42 years of what was referred to as a Progressive Conservative dynasty, which ended abruptly in 1985, upon the promise of extended funding for Roman Catholic schools in Ontario. I was around at the time when folks had to pay tuition at Roman Catholic schools after the eighth grade. The promise of extended funding was controversial, for sure ... as many people, as they are thinking right now on the subject of faith-based schools ... believe that support for Catholic education to the exception of all others, is discriminatory against other faiths. This is becoming even more of a key issue today, particularly with the growing diversity of our province and the richness of our multi-faith society. What may have worked in 1985 may not necessarily work today. This is the issue that threw the Progressive Conservatives out of power after 42 years of moderate (and often "bland") leadership. Since 1985, Ontario had become a more volatile political landscape, including a single term for the NDP in 1990 - 1995.
I sense voters do want to see "change", but radical changes scare people and as proven in the past, is very risky to the political careers of those that implement change too far, too soon. In many ways, our current Premier - Dalton McGuinty - has tried to represent to the voters that his leadership was the antidote to what voters got tired of with the former administration of Mike Harris/ Ernie Eves. In some ways, McGuinty did put some brakes on the ideological push and pull involved with the so-called "MUSH sector" (municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals). When Harris was in power, many of his ideas were good - but like most politicians, he wanted to do all of this in one term of office. This is what eventually did his administration in and possibly could continue to turn some voters off the Progressive Conservative party. However, there were many hot spots where McGuinty could have taken a more cautious and consensus-oriented position, but chose not to. Like Mike Harris, McGuinty had his own ideas of how things needed to be done and given the short-term view of politics, he too needed to get some of these things done in THIS term. Need I name these "changes"? Lifting the "cap" off hydro, terminating the "employment" of highly paid Hydro employees with golden parachutes, radically altering the payment structure and rate of pay for MPPs, adding a major health tax, smart meters, banning pit bulls, cutting the special diet allowances (as well as some other less known ODSP benefits), forcing paralegals under the Law Society, etc. were in his mind decisive moves, but in the minds of many voters - maybe not good ideas. I don't think the McGuinty administration actually wanted to hurt anybody with these moves; however, many of these decisions have cost jobs, businesses and hurt the working poor.
I think what most voters want is to be left alone, to be availed of work opportunities, increased income and a reasonable social safety net in the health care and social sector. They want somebody managing the good ship Ontario with a moderate, yet consensus building role at the top. People do not want to fear the loss of their livelihood or to pay more for essential services. When politicians start pulling manoevres that put some of these things at risk, they make voters nervous. People don't like strikes, major protests, long waiting lists for services that taxes should be paying for, and so forth. The machine should be well-oiled and running smoothly, while ensuring that regardless of who you are in Ontario - there is a sense of predictability and safety. This is something that unfortunately I feel I was not getting from the McGuinty government ...
While not everything that went wrong in Ontario is McGuinty's fault, voters needed to see that some effort is being made to reduce or ameliorate the negative impacts that changes might bring. With the hike in hydro, the loss of my own government contracts and the sense that paralegals are being regulated out of business, I have lost that sense of security and safety I should be receiving from my government. I have therefore lost confidence in the leadership and direction that McGuinty's government is going. I don't want another four years of suffering the way I am right now. I want access to opportunities, access to more work ... I am well over forty years of age and this is the time of my life that I begin to worry about if I will ever be able to retire. If things keep going the way they have under the present administration, I might as well forget it.
However - what if Mr. McGuinty still made the same decisions that he did, but somehow took other steps to ameliorate the negative effects of some of these policies (so people like me can stop feeling targeted)? For example, his government could have provided "seed money" to the Law Society of Upper Canada to pay them to regulate us and reduce some of our costs ... while allowing eventual economies of scale (with more paralegals eventually becoming licensed) to be the taper-off point of this funding, so that regulatory mechanisms are at least affordable to the first set of guinea pigs going through licensing (a.k.a. "grandparented" or "transitional" candidates) can actually afford to continue and the public can continue to afford to access our services. With respect to the other contracts, if changes were made to the Employment Support program, could there have been a way to negotiate some other type of related contract with my office to ensure that: (a) clients receiving my service can continue to receive services; and (b) my office can continue to serve some type of role with ODSP clients - maybe a different role, but still a role that will pay me to continue working? Would my attitude and my feeling of predictability and safety under McGuinty's watch be different? Absolutely! If things were different in this way, I may instead be campaigning for one of their people instead of wasting my time on this blog "educating" voters about my life and attitudes toward it.
In this post, I have come full circle in expressing my concerns about people that don't vote (but still complain nevertheless), to the directness of much of my life and work experience in the political and government sphere, to my knowledge of how government actually works, to my knowledge of how governments can at times unintentionally put "outside" people in precarious or difficult situations - which can and should cost them not only votes, but possibly a majority government. I often wish the powers that be could actually read my letters and my articles and get a sense of how they went wrong for me and let me have the opportunities that they speak of so frequently, but somehow seem so elusive to me. In 2003, many of us including my husband and I did vote to "choose change", but it appears this time around, we're going to have to do it again - except this time for real.