Time For Change?

I think this has to be one of the worst reasons to vote for a party. Yet, “There’s really an overwhelming desire for change in the province right now,” according to a the managing director at Angus Reid, in response to a new poll in Ontario. (Toronto Star, Aug 21 2011) I think all this means is that people are having a hard time in the current economy, much harder than their leaders. They hope that shuffling things in parliament will be effective. But often all it really does is put those in power who helped in getting us here: before the last time we “wanted change”.

This is particularly true in Canada, where we have three major parties to vote for: I would rather hear that we are voting for a particular proposal or for a particular leader… not just that we think it’s “time for a change”. The last few years have been rough, for a lot of reasons… economic “ideals” in the U.S. were so far out of whack in the Bush era that they dragged the whole planet down with them. And things like that do not turn out overnight. Barack Obama is still dealing with the repercussions of wars and policies that he inherited from George Bush. Canada and Ontario must deal with economic “shit” flowing downhill from our southern neighbour, and I think we’ve done fairly well. Most of that is because we’ve done better at keeping economics from completely defining our lives, though that may change after the next election.

It has been a hard time for everyone, globally: many of the economic theories that define our world and our productivity are turning out to be less robust than people expected (or perhaps I should say “hoped”). That would have been hard for any party to take control and to turn around. To incite a change simply because it is “change” in this context is worse than fruitless: it will waste money on redefining ministries and priorities and generate plenty of paperwork that looks good: but does nothing to actually broach the root of the problem. Lawyers and politicians and business CEOs will happily make speeches and hire consultants to take a “new look” at the problem: while social and environmental programs are cut in order to “save money”. Rob Ford was elected in Toronto because we wanted him to “bring change”… and this is exactly what happened (Toronto Sun, Feb 24 2011). The “change” he brought has been profoundly disappointing.

What I find interesting is that although Canadians want “change”, they’re not actually willing to try anything different. We vacillate back and forth between the Liberals and the Conservatives, exactly like the Americans who really only have two parties. The Conservatives love this: they know that over half the population of the country is socially liberal, yet our vote on the left is consistently spilt. Even though we say we want a change, we’re not actually willing to put our vote where it matters. We’re too afraid of the unknown to actually vote for something different.

Myself, I’ve voted in very few elections: I moved to the States in the early 80s for school and did not come back until 2006. But I do remember one of the last elections before I left: Pierre Elliott Trudeau had been Prime Minister for most of my life (his tenure had lasted 11 years at that point). People “wanted change”. In 1979 Trudeau was defeated by the Conservatives led by Joe Clark… now known as “Joe Who” because his government lasted only 6 months before it was defeated in a No-Confidence motion. The Liberals hadn’t even had time to elect a new leader, so Trudeau was back as PM. So much for change.

I know people are afraid of the NDP: and that illustrates just how successful the other parties have been in defining what “change” means. We won’t actually “change”: we’ll shift over to the other well-worn boots of leadership, and deal with the same old problems of giving business too much power and exploiting the poor. If we want “change”, how about actually voting to make a difference?

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