Tweedledum and Tweedledee

There’s a fair amount of political talk in my household these days. I have been trying not to write too much about the October 19 Canadian election, figuring that not everyone shares my passion for politics, but decided to make an exception today.

Our discussion started with the local options. While Canadians tend to think of ourselves as choosing a prime minister to lead us and his or her party to govern us, the name on the ballot is that of a local candidate, not the party leader. Until 1970 the party name wasn’t allowed on the ballot, only the name of the candidate.

The family discussion took place when I mentioned that the local New Democratic Party candidate had been a failed aspirant for the Conservative Party nomination about a decade ago. Ideologically the two parties are considered by most people to be polar opposites.

I then mentioned that one of the candidates who lost the leadership race for the Liberal Party in 2013 was running to become a Member of Parliament for the Green Party.

This prompted the observation from my wife that all parties are the same anyway, so it doesn’t matter who you are running for. (That’s not an exact quote, I’m paraphrasing.) She knows that’s not really the case, but the statement does reflect how many Canadians view our political leadership.

It seems absurd that someone who vies for the leadership of a national party would turn around and change parties soon after losing that leadership bid. It seems though to be becoming common. Deborah Coyne leaves the Liberals for the Greens (I wonder if she has wiped out her leadership campaign debt yet?). Belinda Stronach and Scott Brison left the Conservatives for the Liberals. Stronach was defeated in the subsequent election, Brison has won a couple of times with his new party. Historically I think Canadians have usually treated party switchers with suspicion. But the frequency raises the question: If those at the top don’t have any issues with switching parties, it is no wonder the public looks at party ideologies and questions whether they are relevant.

This year Eve Adams was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health one morning and by the end of the day she was a new member of the Liberal Party, repudiating the policies she had been defending in the House of Commons the day before.

Former Liberal Thomas Mulcair is now the federal NDP leader. Former NDP MP (and Ontario Premier) Bob Rae became a federal Liberal leadership contender. In 150 years of Canadian politics, there are plenty of similar examples.

I still believe political parties and what they stand for do matter. They may at times seem alike, but perhaps that is more a reflection on the politicians and how they package their message. In the coming election (and there’s always a coming election, wherever you are reading this) it is your responsibility to examine the party platforms, analyze them and cast your vote accordingly. What issues are important to you? Is it defence and security? Aboriginal rights? The economy? Homelessness? How does each political party plan to address the issues if elected? Does your local candidate agree with the party platform? (You would think the answer is yes, but sometimes you might be surprised.) Do the party’s priorities match your priorities?

There is a great need for an informed electorate. People get the government they deserve, and if the voters don’t do their part and take some responsibility for their choices they won’t deserve very much.

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