On Monday The Current broadcast what they called a “voters roundtable,” a discussion with three voters focused on the question “do government scandals matter?” For anyone who considers themselves an informed and engaged voter, and especially for those who are actively involved in electoral politics, it is both painful and necessary listening.
First of all, it turns out these three people (Peter So, Blake Batson and Teresa Charlebois) have very little understanding of the controversies currently surrounding the federal government. Usually they simply admit that fact, though Baston begins by confidently referencing “the Bev Oda issue with the contract,” which Charlebois picks up later to refer to “the contracting and the swaying.”
That’s hopefully not a big surprise to any of us though, right? I think most of us already assume that the majority of Canadians don’t know the difference between Bev Oda and Len Blork, let alone the difference between an altered CIDA memo and a contracting.
What stuck out to me in this conversation, rather, was the repeated assertion that these voters don’t care about almost anything this government does, because all governments are pretty much the same anyway. Scandals like the Oda ado (our first palindromic scandal) “plague every single government” said Batson by way of explaining why they don’t affect his vote.
“Every government has their scandals,” added Charlebois. “Think back just to our last government before the Conservatives, they had their fair share of scandals too so it’s kinda hard to just say ‘ok, well the scandals now are going to necessarily sway how I would vote personally’ because correctly or not I feel like scandals happen with every party and every government.”
Anna Maria Tremonti’s questions did not move beyond the topic of scandals specifically, but over and over again I’ve heard the same complaint at the door about issues as well. “You’re all the same,” people tell me. “It doesn’t make a difference who I vote for.” And who can blame voters for having this kind of reaction? The level of political rhetoric in this country pretty much amounts to “Health care? Economy? Transparency? I’m in favour of them all!”
The result, my politician friends, is that you have turned yourselves into fungible commodities. In the eyes of too many voters, you are completely interchangeable with each other. According to the people over at Wikipedia, this “occurs as a goods or services market loses differentiation … goods that formerly carried premium margins for market participants have become commodities, such as generic pharmaceuticals and silicon chips.” And members of parliament.
So, find a point of difference. A real one of both style (to grab attention) and substance (to hold it). Be bold. Be a little crazy, even. Iceland’s Besti Flokkurinn or “Best Party” took control of Reykjavík’s City Council last year partly by promising not to keep any of their promises. “All other parties are secretly corrupt,” the argument went, “but if you vote for us we’ll be openly corrupt.” They won more council seats than any other party.
When the best poll numbers our governing party can muster are in the high thirties, and the party that’s formed government for most of our country’s existence is stuck in the twenties, there are very few ideas not worth trying, especially if you can figure out a way to actually look, sound and act differently than any other talking suit. And if you fail, at least the stakes are low, because you can’t do much worse than the status quo.