Last Friday the NDP sent out their fifth e-mail newsletter in a row (update: sixth, seventh) complaining about gas prices, saying that Canadians are “victims,” getting “gouged” and “cheated” at the pumps. The implication, of course, is that if the NDP were in power they would make sure gas prices were lower. That might be a good way to get votes, but it’s completely irreconcilable with their claim to have a strong environmental platform. (I was going to let it slide after the first and second email, and I forgot about it after the third and fourth, but now that the fifth one has reminded me, I thought it was worth opening up the discussion.)
There’s a triple-E crisis at work here. Our Environmental crisis is, in fact, an Energy crisis that will become an Economic one if we don’t take the right kind of action. The problem, simply put, is that we’re using up too much stored solar energy (fossil fuels) too quickly. And it doesn’t take a doctorate in economics to understand that when something is cheaper, people use more of it less efficiently. When we use more fossil fuels less efficiently, we exacerbate the climate crisis while simultaneously using up what has been the source of almost all economic growth and prosperity in the past two hundred years.
Instead of acknowledging that reality, too many politicians focus on playing to the cameras. There’s a reason so many people have come to believe that politicians will say almost anything to get elected; it’s true. (In the last federal election, I used the fact that Greens recognize the need to end artificially low energy prices as an example of how we were an exception to that rule.) This is what Joe Trippi calls “transactional politics,” the process by which politicians offer promises (lower gas prices, lower taxes, more police) in exchange for your vote. It’s also what has led Mark Kingwell to declare that “politicians have become brokers of interest rather than leaders, and citizens reduce themselves to consumers of goods and services enjoyed in return for regular obedience to the tax code.”
The problem is that transactional politics exist in direct opposition to transformational politics–the kind of leadership that Kingwell (and, I suspect, most Canadians) pine for, and that we so desperately need in this time of crisis. That’s why the biggest threat to our quality of life (best case) and collective survival (worst case) is not the Triple E Crisis itself, but the lack of attention most citizens are paying to the complex political issues that confront us. Here, we add a fourth E, the Electorate. Democracy requires that we all take some responsibility for the direction of our government, yet many Canadians feel no such responsibility. We’re all too busy with too many other important things to be bothered by the mud-slinging PR exercise that politics has become. And that, I would argue, is what makes us more susceptible to things like Jack Layton’s claim that we pay too much for gas (never mind the fact that we pay way less than most other counties), Stephen Harper’s claim that there’s a foreign stripper epidemic that needs to be addressed (never mind the fact that only ten strippers immigrated to Canada last year), or StÃ©phane Dion’s claim that somehow there are “mega-bucks” to be made by taking action on Kyoto (acting is cheaper than not acting, but that doesn’t mean we’re all going to somehow magically get rich).
That’s why I take democracy itself so seriously. An engaged, informed electorate is the only way we’re going to solve the problems facing us. I have no doubt that the Canadian public is intelligent enough; we only need the will, and to direct our energies and attention to the right places.
Of course, there’s hope. The attempts of the status-quo parties to buy votes aren’t proving effective, to the point where the only party telling you what you don’t want to hear is the only one that’s up in the polls since the last election. It’s just like we were told in high school: just be yourself, the other kids will learn to like you for who you are soon enough.