video written and produced by Nicole Dalesio
It may seem like an overstatement of the obvious but there is something terribly wrong with our governments today. Our institutions are being undermined by political machines and politicians who look on them as inconvenient and who treat elections as simply competitions in which the only thing that matters is winning.
It is an unparalleled erosion of the democratic process and the fundamental understanding that whether it is a republic, a constitutional monarchy or any other form of democracy, it is meant to be government by the people for the people.
Many blame one side or the other for the erosion of our democracies but one thing is clear all sides are feeling that erosion.
In the United States, the Executive Branch and Congress have failed to come together to produce a budget four years in a row. The country is now engaged in a year-long spectacle of fund-raising, campaigning and obsessive spending in order to elect a new president. This campaign is such a major distraction that it has interfered with the security of a consulate in Libya and the aftermath of the terrorist attack that killed four Americans, including the American Ambassador to Libya. It has also seen both Congress and the White House put election campaigns ahead of a rapidly approaching deadline on current legislation that would result in a significant tax increase for all Americans and the further downgrading of the nation’s credit rating.
In Canada, all three political parties have shown a remarkable hypocrisy when it comes to the legislature. The most recent is the current premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, who resigned suddenly and who prorogued the legislature until further notice to avoid further investigation into the many scandals facing his government.
He justifiably being criticized for his actions but the New Democratic Party under Bob Rae prorogued the Ontario Legislature three times during his four-year term as Premier and the Prime Minister of Canada shut down the nation’s parliament twice.
Now, the federal government under the Conservative government combines a wide range of legislative changes into one large bill making it difficult for the opposition parties to properly examine each on behalf of the electorate.
We are not well-served by this cynical approach to our democratic principles or traditions.
I believe it is a natural extension of the attitudes of political parties which are guided more by spin doctors, strategists and polls than by policy, vision and leadership.
Recently Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, announced his intention to run for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. The party has been without a leader for well over a year. Warren Kinsella, a well-known Liberal strategist, waxed poetic in his belief that Mr. Trudeau would be the salvation of the desperately sinking Liberal Party. Mr. Trudeau had his full support until Dalton McGuinty announced he was stepping down as premier of Ontario.
Suddenly, Mr. Kinsella was no longer blinded by the light shining from the beatific eyes of Mr. Trudeau and he is now singing the praises of his former boss and recommending he run for the leadership. The fact that Mr. McGuinty all but destroyed the Ontario economy, has been caught in one too many scandals and has flat out lied to the electorate on more than one occasion is of absolutely no concern to people like Mr. Kinsella. Like, so many other political strategists in democracies around the world, he puts winning ahead of principle or obtaining power ahead of seeking power for the public good. Mr. McGuinty is a seasoned politician who has won elections and that is all that matters.
But it shouldn’t be.
What should matter is public service, integrity and an understanding that political leaders serve at the pleasure of the people and that they are given a great trust; a trust too many of them break without a second thought.
All of them caught up in this cynical and sleazy business tell themselves that the ends justify the means and once they have won election, it will allow them the opportunity to advance a greater good but it isn’t true. It is merely a job; a job without ethics and which is the road to power and financial success.
Consider this simple fact. Many who serve in the United States Senate enter as middle class income earners and exit years later as millionaires. In Canada, Parliament just passed legislation that would change MPs pensions and require them to contribute 50% to their pension plan as opposed to the 25 to 1 ratio that was in effect. Predictably, a former Conservative MP has already criticized the legislation as an undo hardship and as unfair.
Public service should be a calling, not a road to riches and entitlement.
Parliament, Congress and both state and provincial legislatures are the peoples’ houses. These legislatures are not merely symbolic; they are the working centres of our governments. They aren’t sacred ground in a religious sense but they are as close as a non-religious place can become without actually being hallowed.
When politicians, their parties and all those who make their living off the cynical process that has become winning and holding power disrespect those institutions, they disrespect the people and undermine the very core of our democratic rights and process.
We are long passed the time when we should be putting aside partisan bickering and holding politicians from all parties to a higher standard, a standard that demands answers to real questions not spin; a standard that demands integrity not ambiguity and that demands respect for the people and the peoples’ government.
The damage being done to our democratic process is being reflected in increased voter apathy that is founded in a sense of electoral pointlessness. When a politician and his or her party ignore the promises they made to get elected once they are elected, they have done more than lie; they have undermined the right of the people to govern themselves.
Democracy is like a child; vulnerable, fragile and with a constant need to be nurtured. It is shaped by us and is a responsibility that we ignore at our peril. Democracy is a gift that many died to preserve and to protect.
We elect others to represent us and to govern on our behalf and to preserve our democratic principles and freedoms but increasingly, these same political representatives along with their spin doctors, backroom strategists and pollsters have become the greatest threat to the rights, freedoms and democratic processes set out in our constitutions.
It falls to us to decide if we will continue to accept that or stand up for our rights and democratic principles, the same constitutional rights and freedoms so many died to preserve for us.
© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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