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We've only got ourselves to blame

Instead of whining, voters must engage

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2010 (3476 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As another calendar year comes to a close, we remain gripped by a profound gridlock that is paralyzing the federal politics.

It's been a year of ebbs and flows, ups and downs, surges and withdrawals. After all of the debate, the revelations, allegations, resignations and byelections, we ended up where we started the year. At least according to opinion polls.

This month, in polls from a variety of different pollsters, the Tories bounced back and forth between 39 and 31 per cent support, the Liberals between 32 and 26 per cent, the NDP between 18 and 12 per cent.

Consider that polls released in the first two weeks of January 2010 had the Conservative party bobbing between 34 and 31 per cent support. The Liberals captured between 31 and 26 per cent, with the NDP hovering between 19 and 15 per cent.

Not exactly progress, is it?

There were moments when it appeared the Tories would break away from the pack. However, the governing party did not once reach the magic 40 per cent plateau, the level at which many believe a party can start thinking about forming a majority government. On four occasions, polls tracked the Tories with leads of 10-plus points over the Liberals. In none of those polls, however, did the Conservatives reach 40 per cent overall, nor did they sustain the leads in subsequent polls.

How profound was the gridlock? Over the year, 23 polls reported the Tories and Liberals as statistically tied (with leads less than the margin of error). The two parties were statistically tied in every month except for May and June. Many additional polls showed the Conservatives with leads that were just outside (less than one per cent) the margin of error. In three of the statistically tied polls, all taken in January and early February, the Liberals were ahead but not with a lead greater than the margin of error.

What can we conclude from all this poking and prodding of the electorate? Not to belabour the obvious, but we're stuck and we're showing no indication that we know how to get unstuck. It's not that we haven't had a raft of juicy political issues: the recession, Afghan detainees, the G20 debacle in Toronto, expense scandals, the Helena Guergis melodrama, among others. And yet, none has proven to have seismic qualities. We remain ambivalent about who we would like to run the country.

After more than two years of failed courtship,, it's time to admit the problem has nothing to do with the political parties. It's about the voters.

That's right. It's not me. It's you.

Despite the fact political leadership is as important now as it has ever been, voters spend most of their time complaining. They will lament the lack of choice among the parties. They will complain about a charisma deficit in our party leaders, a lack of new ideas, negative political advertising, and broken moral compasses. The worst part is that along with the heightening and increasingly shrill whining, fewer of us are voting. The 2008 federal election had the lowest turnout in history at just over 58 per cent. Provincial and municipal election voter turnout has suffered the same fate.

In the same vein as 'you get what you pay for,' it's pretty safe to say that if you trade in your election ballot for moans and whines, you'll get the government you deserve. Remember, those parties so many of us dislike are out there poking and prodding and doing their own polling. When you see their policies and pledges, you can bet a lot of it was exactly what we told them we wanted.

Amid all this doom and gloom, there may be some hope. In fact, voters do seem to be showing signs they're ready to come out of their funk. Voter turnout in big-city municipal elections was up substantially, even in Winnipeg. The November federal byelections did not fare as well; in all three ridings up for grabs, less than one-third of eligible voters participated. Byelections are not, however, harbingers of federal general election turnout. We should hope the municipal results are an indication voters are ready for a comeback at other levels.

And that's what the federal political system needs more than ever. A profound, forceful, definitive electorate that will reassert itself on the political stage. With all the moaning and whining, recall petitions and referendums, we've forgotten voters have always had the power to make a difference.

So, perhaps 2011 will become the year of the voter. There will definitely be a provincial election in Manitoba in October. And perhaps there will be a federal vote as well. Let's make these two elections to remember.

dan.lett @freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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