By Ben Bull
Published August 30, 2009
As I was re-booting my laptop for the 10th time on Friday, I flipped through the latest copy of the Star. Ted Kennedy's funeral... Harper's senate appointments... and Christopher Hume.
"International observers are fretting..." noted Hume, "about the legitimacy of the recent Afghanistan election; according to some reports, only 30 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot."
Oh dear. He went on: "Makes you wonder what those same observers would think if they came here?"
In 2006, the last time an election was held in Mississauga, even fewer voters - 26 per cent - managed to drag themselves to a polling station. Toronto figures are marginally higher, but only just.
Good point. But that wasn't all. Citing the worsening figures for municipal voting in particular, Hume questioned why our city politicians are all but ignored: "Municipal politicians...possess serious power. Indeed, they are the ones whose work most affects our daily lives." So true.
The power of incumbency, combined with widespread apathy, makes it all too easy for voters to resist the contempt bred by familiarity. Indifference makes the world go around.
Yes again. At this point my laptop sputtered back to life. Hooray! Now, did I remember to save that spreadsheet...?
As I desperately tried to recover my files I ran through the rest of the column:
Given the dysfunctional state of civic politics it's hard to imagine how a two-term limit, say, could make things any worse. In Toronto that would amount to eight years in office; surely enough time to figure out how to get things done. Perhaps limits would also speed the glacial pace of municipal decision-making.
Uh Oh: Fixed terms. I've never been convinced by this idea. There appears to be very little evidence that fixed terms will add anything to our political interest, or make any difference at all.
In the face of insubstantial supporting evidence, proponents often seem to suggest, as Hume does here, that, 'it can't hurt to try', as if this is reason enough to try them.
I'm all for tinkering with our democracy - God knows it's broken - but I'm not sure fixed terms are the way to go. I would rather see mandatory voting put in place first (after all, why is it mandatory to sit on a jury and yet not to vote?) and voting status given to landed immigrants. This would at least change the voting landscape and force people to pay attention.
The underlying problem of course, is that people are disillusioned and detached. They see the two faces of politics - what goes on during elections (promises, photo-ops and polls) and what goes on in between (secrecy and spin) - and give up.
Our 142 year old democracy is still a work in progress, but it's barely clunking along. It's like a bad piece of trial software, spontaneously re-booting and running - really slow. What we need to do is find a way to crank out another version, and quickly, before this beta one we have craps out altogether.