This is a very difficult column for me to write, and one that I’m not sure that I should be writing at all. However, it’s been preying on my mind since our latest British Columbia provincial election back on May 17th.
Before I get into it, let me clarify a couple of things for the record. Firstly, I voted in this election, as I have done without exception in every provincial and federal election I’ve been eligible to vote in since I turned eighteen years old. Casting my ballot is something that I believe, at least in principle, is the right and responsibility of each and every one of us. To not bother spending an hour of my time to make my way to the polls and participate in the democratic process would have caused me too much guilt. Secondly, although some of my friends and acquaintances may disagree, I don’t consider myself to be an especially cynical person. On the whole, I believe that humanity may be misguided, but most people are generally well intentioned. Most people I know care about their children. They may disagree on the finer points, but they support the idea of health care and public education. They believe in human rights and are typically caring and honest. I also believe that we are lucky to live in a country as free, as stable, and as multi-culturally vibrant as Canada.
Having said all that, though, I am troubled by the strong feeling I have that all of the best things about our country and about our lives as citizens are in grave danger of being eroded and lost. In the area of human rights, every week I see battles being fought in the fields of women’s equality, poverty, education, childcare, mental health and gay rights that should have been settled decades ago. Anyone who hasn’t spent the last couple of decades living in a cave knows that our environment is in grave danger. From the forests to the ozone layer we, along with the rest of the world, are systematically destroying the planet we live on in the name of convenience and cold, hard cash. Our food sources are being contaminated, our resources are being depleted, and our air and water are slowly being poisoned. Throughout the world, a power elite of corporate interests is manipulating government policies. All the while, we concerned, caring and supposedly well-educated citizens are burying our heads firmly up our rear-ends. We are driving bigger and more toxic vehicles, buying more useless products, and consuming more and more pesticide-laden and genetically modified organisms (GMO)-laced foods. We are repeatedly voting for regressive political leadership as long as it means we can pay a few dollars less in taxation.
All of this brings me back to the most recent B.C. provincial election in which our neo-conservative Liberals were reinstalled for another four years of gleeful poor bashing and corporate kowtowing. Once again, there was the predictable cry of outrage that only about fifty per cent of eligible voters bothered to show up at the polls. “You can’t complain if you don’t vote,” goes the typical refrain from the responsible democratic participants. It’s something I’ve said myself on many occasions.
This year, though, I can’t help but feel a little differently. This year, I can’t help but think about the fact that most of us rely on the mainstream media for our information about what is going on in the world. Media owned and controlled by the same power elite, the same vested corporate interests that are digging our global graves are also our primary information source. To boot, most of us are so creepily self-absorbed and self-interested that we couldn’t give a shit about the more marginalized elements of society. This year, I can’t help but think that the political process has become a tyranny of the self-interested majority. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that half of all eligible voters stayed home on election night is a reflection of the feelings of disgust and powerlessness that such a political system generates.
If we are soon headed for another federal election, as it looks very likely, I will once again take my place in the queue of voters. To be honest, though, I will be voting with a sense of resignation and duty, rather than a feeling of joy at participating in the democratic process.