Monday, September 10, 2012

Election by stealth

One of the biggest lies that elected politicians foist on citizens is their call to vote during an election. When they say "go vote," they really mean "only if you are a supporter." The fact is, they do everything in their power to minimize the turnout of the opposing side while maximizing their own support. That is understandable of course, but it makes their appeal to voters totally disingenuous.

This week, elections in Quebec and Ontario demonstrated just how duplicitous elected politicians can be and still almost succeed.

In Quebec a general election was called in the dog-days of August and set for September 4th, the day after Labour Day. In Ontario two important by-elections were called within a fews days of the Quebec call, and set for September 6th. In both cases the idea was to sneak the election past the electorate, and it almost worked.

The Liberal government in Quebec has been under public scrutiny for charges of corruption, protests from hordes of disaffected students, and for being a bit long-in-the-tooth for a Quebec government. You would think they would be solidly trounced as the pollsters and pundits had predicted. But that's not what happened. The actual difference between the elected PQ and the ousted Liberals was just 0.7% of the popular vote, not exactly a rout, and that's the point.

Similar events happened in Ontario. The Liberal government here (where I live), was in a minority situation according to the Westminster rules, just one seat short of an effective majority government and thereby in jeopardy of losing a vote of confidence at any time.

In the spring of 2012, the government Leader, Dalton McGuinty, offered a plum job to a sitting member of the opposition. She accepted the offer, resigned her seat and that necessitated a by-election to replace the member. That was delayed for months, until a representative of the government conveniently resigned his seat in early August. Just days later, two by-elections were announced to fill the vacancies. As in Quebec, the campaigns occurred in the depths of summer and the actual voting took place during one of the busiest weeks of the year, the first week of school and work after the summer. One could imagine that few voters would be interested or involved, and few would be voting. That's exactly what happened in Ontario. In the riding (Kitchener-Waterloo) where the sitting member was bribed out of her seat, there was some anger that translated to a staggering 47% voter turnout, down a bit from 50.5% just six months earlier in the general election. The anger resulted in a socialist, or should I say 'more socialist than the others' being elected. In the riding where the government member resigned (Vaughan) there was total apathy; just 26% of eligible voters bothered to vote, down from 41.1% in October 2011, likely because everyone thought the government would hold the seat, and it did.

That didn't happen in Quebec, voter turnout was significantly higher (nearly 75%) than in previous elections. But Quebecer's wear their politics like a badge, and in this country they come closest to exemplifying Frederic Bastiat's famous line: "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else." Quebec has the highest tax rates, gets the most in equalization transfer payments, and in many ways they have the most repressive laws of any province in the country. They certainly are distinct, but not in a good way.

Now both the Ontario and Quebec governments are in minority positions, more elections will follow, maybe soon. What was accomplished by these elections? Even more cynicism. How is freedom or democracy served by manipulating the timing of important events like elections? They are not.

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