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Aug 27 / Great Apes

On Cynicism and Representative Democracy

As this federal election campaign moves on, I’m seeing an increasing number of people complaining that none of the parties are a good option.  In particular, I’m seeing a lot of people complaining about the NDP, but that’s not surprising given that I move in generally progressive social circles.  And this gets at something about how a lot of voters approach politics that really annoys me.

It often seems like what people want is a party with a platform that just says everything they want it to say and nothing that they don’t.  On one level, that obviously makes sense; we want the things we want.  But it also ignores how representative democracy works.

We live in a country with tens of millions of potential voters.  Those voters have different circumstances and priorities.  Any party that has realistic aims of governing has to find ways of convincing huge swathes of people who have fairly major disagreements to work together anyway.  Politics is, at its core, the art of negotiation.  We talk a lot about “coalition” governments, but in reality all governments are coalitions.  People who differ on some issues but agree on others come together to find a way for each group to get some of what it wants.

This isn’t a flaw of representative democracy, it’s the point.

Let’s have a look at the party that I’ve long been a supporter of – the NDP.  Do I agree with everything Thomas Mulcair says on the campaign trail?  No.  Do I agree with every policy announcement he makes?  No.  So why am I still strongly supporting the NDP?

Because an NDP government will do things that are important to me.  An NDP government will repeal C-51, the Conservatives’ awful terrorism legislation.  An NDP government will institute a national daycare program.  An NDP government will probably bring in electoral reform, and an NDP government will likely end Canada’s military involvement in Iraq.  Those are all things that are important to me, and they’re things the other parties won’t do (with the possible exception of the Liberals wanting some form of electoral reform).

An NDP government will also likely do things I don’t agree with, like extending the home renovation tax credit.  But that’s OK.  I recognise that in order to get the things I want,  I need to be willing to work with other people on the things they want.  That’s how democratic governments are formed.

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