Friday, October 10, 2008

Secret Ballot

Now that I have my ballot, I have to decide whom to vote for. I haven't given much thought to it yet. The Canadian election was called well into the American election campaign and we vote on October 14th. The whole Canadian election campaign has been in the shadow of the American theatrics. It's hard to pay attention to what's going on in Canada when the ex-P.O.W., the lipstick-wearing moose hunter, and the community organizer who is a bigger celebrity than Paris Hilton are so fun to watch. But I have to look after my own country now.

We don't vote for the Prime Minister in Canada. We vote for our local representative, and then the Governor-General asks the political party that has the most elected representatives to form the government. Their leader therefore becomes the Prime Minister. The runner-up party forms the official opposition. It's as if the US presidential election were determined by who had a Senate majority.

Some Canadians consider their vote for the local candidate to be purely a vote for the leader of that party, while others vote to elect the most suitable representative for their electoral district. I'm in the latter group, so I start to look for information on the actual candidates in my district, known here as a riding.

I have an alphabetical list of the candidates who will be on my ballot. I go to the website for one of them. There's boilerplate from the party, including a sidebar about the number of women in the House of Commons.

"Oh yeah, this is a woman's name," I realize. Candidate gender was nowhere in my considerations about whom to vote for. I pause to consider whether it should be, and I discard the idea. I don't see it as having any relevance. For that matter, she is a different race than me: also irrelevant. I think these things are not as important in Canadian politics as the US media is making them in the current race south of the border. I don't know whether that's the media or the reality. Or perhaps it's just that she's just a local candidate, and it would be a bigger deal for the party leader. We do have one female party leader and have had others, including a Prime Minister. Anyway I'm impressed by this one's accomplishments, and while she doesn't have experience in government, her volunteer work has exposed her to a lot of politics and her experience includes a lot of negotiation and working with a wide variety of people. I think she would be a strong voice for me in parliament.

The next candidate website I visit leads off with the fact that he's married and has kids. It almost makes me giggle. You have one opportunity to make a first impression on me and you've decided to start with the fact that you've managed to get it up more than once? You want me to say yes to you representing my interests in parliament, and you think reporting that a woman said yes to your marriage proposal will influence me? Perhaps he's trying to assure me that he's not gay. That would suggest that he thinks a candidate's sexual orientation should influence my choice. Or is he protesting too much? I concoct a whole secret life for him. I'm reading way too much into this, I know, but he hasn't given me anything else to read. His bio and personal statements give no evidence of any particular skill or experience that argues for his ability to convey my voice to the halls of power. I think he's here as a placeholder for his party, for the people who are going to vote the party name and not the candidate.

If I'm going to invent secret lives for the candidates, perhaps I should consider that as an immigrant, the first one I looked at could really be a deep cover spy and her success here has been aided by other operatives who want to get their spy into the seat of power.

Another candidate has a website with links in Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Vietnamese and Tagalog. He's inclusive, anyway. Perhaps he's a spy, too. He's a lawyer, so that implies the ability to think, and a set of useful parliamentary skills. He has a lot of political experience and has been an activist his whole life. He could also be an alien masquerading as a human.

I take a closer look at their party platforms. I don't feel I can trust any party to carry through on its promises, but the direction they are claiming to push will at least indicate which sectors of the economy can expect the most pork from them.

I finally choose a candidate who is unlikely to be part of a plot to enslave humanity under alien masters. I print the name on my ballot and seal it inside all the envelopes, one after the other. It's a bit like entering the Readers' Digest Sweepstakes, except that I'll get a government instead of a book.


david said...

Actually, it's more as if the party in the U.S. with a *House* majority got to form the government, since the Canadian House of Commons corresponds to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Anonymous said...

You wrote: "...He's a lawyer, so that implies the ability to think, and a set of useful parliamentary skills..."

I'd suggest that we have too many un-employed lawyers and related professions represented in parliament. Perhaps if we had a representative cross-section of society we'd have better government and less "good-ole-boy" clubs who take care of themselves first and the rest of us much later?

Just a thought...

david said...

apolitical: I want a representative cross-section of society in government about as much as I want it in on the flight deck of a plane, the server room of a big company, or lineup of a major league sports team.

While I don't think you have to be a lawyer to be in government, I also don't believe that someone with no experience can become an effective representative in a few weeks, any more than someone can become an effective airline pilot in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

david: at the risk of hijacking the blog (sorry Aviatrix) - Then aren't you saying you believe in professional politicians? As if common sense only exists within the elite "class"? I actually prefer "government of the people, by the people, for the people." But lately I'm wondering if democracy should be listed as an endangered species.

dpierce said...

@the above: I believe the original design of the US Congress was to incorporate both. The House was supposed to be populated by the everyday common man (farmers and the like), while Senators were theorized to be wisened scholars of some standing. It was a nice thought. Philosophers since early Greece have tried to concoct ways to take the politics out of politics.

Aviatrix said...

I don't mind the side conversations in the comments at all, as long as they stay civil. This is interesting and intelligent, and yes, goes right back to Plato: how informed should you have to be to make a political decision? Is the design of laws and public policy sufficiently different from the design of bridges and the practice of medicine that it makes sense to weigh the input of everyone equally on the former, but require experts with training for the latter?

david said...

apolitical: you make a good point, and we probably agree that an elite governing class is a bad thing (I don't think dynasties like the Roosevelts, Kennedys, Bushes, or Clintons are healthy). If you look at my original posting, though, I was talking about skills.

Take my pilot example -- being an airline pilot doesn't require you to belong to a special elite social class, but it does require you to have some basic skills to start, and then to do a lot of training and get a lot of experience. You can't just pull Jane or Joe Average off the street and put her/him straight onto the flight deck. By the time Joe Average has finished all that training, he has a different perspective than when he started, so he's no longer representative of the group he started in (listen to how pilots complain about media coverage of crashes, etc.).

I think being a politician is the same: you don't have to be rich, or a lawyer, or anything else, but you have to care enough to have spent years involved in the process, somehow, before running for public office, and that time investment will make you different from average voters, not matter where you started out -- instead of sitting at home complaining, you'll have been out trying to change the world.

Lawyers have a one advantage, because they already understand a lot of the technical details that lawmakers have to deal with day to day, but there have been many great politicians who haven't been lawyers.

Unknown said...

Aviatrix said"-It's a bit like entering the Readers' Digest Sweepstakes, except that I'll get a government instead of a book."

but you know the book will normally be much higher quality.;-)

Jim said...

There is one important difference in the skillset of a politician, as compared that of a pilot, surgeon, teacher, linebacker or a plumber.

Pilots et al work in real time. You do something, something moves, rolls, pitches, greases the dirt, or crashes&burns.

Surgeons work in real time. If they say "oops" it is a Bad Thing.

Teachers, in the classroom, are in always-on mode. Especially in the high school years, if you're not mentally two steps in front of the class, you're in trouble. If you get behind them, they'll eat your lunch.

Politicians, however, work as a collective. They get into caucus, wrestle things out, merge that with the party platform that was devised a year before and is built on years of party positioning, and then come out and parrot the platform. Or heckle. Or spout well-rehearsed sound bites. Or, if you're a backbencher, work in your riding and don't f**k up, tow the party line, don't create trouble, and someday maybe you'll sit on the front row.

It takes great talent to handle the random interogatory questions from the press and the opposition. It takes great talent to not pooch your career when a camera or microphone is on you 20 hours a day.

But beyond pooching your career or damaging the fortunes of your party, there is little that anyone in politics can do single-handedly. There are a few who have excelled (Washington, Macdonald, Churchill, Thatcher, Ghandi, Mao, Franklin - and even Hitler) who have produced outstanding leadership, have been a one-person influencer who can motivate people and take them somewhere. And before anyone gets their panties in a twist, "somewhere" definately includes evil places (ref. Hitler). The list of strong leaders is short, because it takes exceptional skill.

While there is a requirement for leadership, most of the folks there are most valuable representing a diverse set of opinions, and offer their own opinions - the results of a collective 100+ brains is better than which will be produced from 3.

As for the lawyers.... politicians do not need to be lawyers. There is a huge civil service that has the knowledge of the intricacies, and a lawyer's skills can be rented. Aside for the requirement for diversity of thought, I don't attach any value to a lawyer's unique training, aside from their contribution to the collective thought. There are too many lawyers in politics, and not enough farmers or fisherman or oil riggers.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. Your descriptions of your candidates are hysterical.

Aluwings said...

When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one
individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command.
Very often, that individual is crazy.

-- Dave Barry, "25 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years"

Anonymous said...

The ultimate word in Politics?

dpierce said...

There are some decisions a statesman (used in the genderless sense) makes that are mostly judgments of morality. For example, "If a person was subject to hardship X, should they be exempt from obligation Y?" You could argue that any person of sound mind and reasonable upbringing could exercise good judgment here. Some decisions are highly technical and require a large pool of experience and applied skill, such as those related to an economy or foreign policy.

But the statesman need not individually possess this experience and skill. A good executive will have a "knee deep" familiarity with the subject matter at hand, and will rely on a staff or expert testimony for the technical detail. You have to be competent enough to know when you're being sold some garbage, you have to know how to bias your subordinates' opinions against the bigger picture, and you have to be open enough to accept opinions that differ from your preconceived notions.

Some people would argue that today's society is missing a lot of basic institutions that once prepared the average citizen to make such decisions later in life. Some would argue it's just shifted.