Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Of Aspirations and Hopes, Part Five
During the recent municipal election, I was staggered by two aspects of the goings-on in particular.
(Was I upset that we ended up putting into office a man who was so combative, had pissed off so many people in his ward that there were close to twenty candidates already committed to seeing him not return to the position of Councillor? Yup. Was I incredulous at how a non-platform platform wasn't seen by those voting for him as a negative? Absatively. Was I angry at the way MSM covered 'The Big Three' to the exclusion of others? Not so much*. Was I livid that the most thoughtful, most scope-infused, perhaps the 'wisest' of mayoral candidates let his obdurateness stand in the way of making a difference and effectively denied the people of Hamilton an opportunity to learn something, not just about their city but about themselves? I'm surprised you'd even have to ask.)
Both of these aspects are tied into wanting to see 'an increase in the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors in local governance'. Both of these aspects are two sides of the same coin. And both of these aspects are anything but peculiar to the election process; both are very emblematic of our 'city-wide political landscape' day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out.
1) The Unenlightenment of The Citizenry
I'm sometimes accused of being overly cynical about the average person's capacities. The cognitive abilities of 'Those of The Many'. Not just about politics, but about most things in general. And I am cynical. (From a 'human' standpoint. From a 'spiritual' one? No. But that's another discussion entirely.) For good reason. Because there's this enormous gulf between functional understanding of what's going on in local governance...and where the average person stands. (Keep in mind that we only had 40% of eligible voters exercising their franchise. And of these, only 40% apparently filled out their ballots with anything resembling an informed opinion pushing them forward. Even if we were to end this discussion here, what does this imply about the general state of affairs? What can we infer from these little statistical tidbits? Hmm...?)
I saw it in Letters to the Editors. I saw it in online discussions, on message boards, in Comments sections. I heard it via eaves-dropped conversations on buses, in stores, I heard it in chats with neighbours, at all-candidate debates.
I've seen it in concentrated discussions on RTH, which -all ne'er-do-wells aside- tends to feature a nice assortment of considered opinions; even the basics get missed here, even there in that 'elevated' concourse of discourse, the fundamentals of issues get misconstrued, misunderstood, misapplied. So what does that say about the capabilities of 'Those of The Many'?
Seriously, I hear some people go off on things-local governance and I throw up in my mouth a little. 'Thank God we don't have the absolute in participational democracy,' I muse to myself.
No matter what you think of my beliefs about civic engagement, surely to gawd this lack of comprehension, this detachment, this apathy has to change.
2) The Dearth of Compelling and Capable Candidates. (Also known as 'Leaders, O Genuine Leaders, Where the Farque Art Thou?')
On several occasions last year during the election campaign, I mused here in editorials about how stunned I was at the lack of acuity on the parts of some candidates.
I bemoaned the fact that there is no vetting process for someone standing for office.
I even referenced the remark that someone-of-renown made after one of the debates that maybe the fee for running should be increased tenfold to a grand.
I sat down with candidates during the last election. I had email exchanges. I effectively interviewed them.
I attended debates. I watched debates online. I listened to debates online.
And the overwhelming response I had through all of this was a commingling of bewilderment and frustration.
I'm all for people exercising their democratic right to stand for office. However...
However, what I saw missing was a certain amount of respect for the idea of office. (And I have to add that radio personalities such as CHML's Scott Thompson, who called for listeners to 'vote every incumbent out!' do nothing positive for this cause.)
A lack of preparedness. A paucity of real insight, an inability to grasp not just the issues but the context of governance, communication skills that came up short time and again...
Often, it appeared as if everything lacking in the average person's comprehension of local politics had been manifested in some of these candidates. (Talk about 'getting the government we deserve'.)
There are two aspects to governance. Those who serve...and those who are served. Each one has to take its participation seriously. In regards to the latter, I do not believe that the public in toto takes its responsibilities seriously. The residents. The citizenry.
In regards to the former, I believe that those in office to a great extent do take its responsibilities seriously. But I'm not so convinced that some candidates do. And I can illustrate this with an anecdote provide me by a dear friend. They were approached by someone last summer who was very enthusiastic about running for Councillor. This potential public servant was going on about how they were looking forward to getting stuff done, to making up for the previous Council's follies....and to all the advantages of the office. My friend then opined as to how this person would have to kiss their family goodbye for four years, that their personal life would be non-existent during the term, etc. The person just stared at them. (They never filed for candidacy.)
One candidate, when explaining 'Why I decided to run' responded by saying 'My friends were asking me when I was going to get involved to make a difference,' or somesuch sentiment. (Bleurgh.)
Yet another kicked off his campaign by launching a civil action against the incumbent, all the while professing that he was, in effect, looking after the public's needs, that what was paramount was that 'justice be served'.
A final one marched into a private function and declared animatedly, with a hand gesture befitting a home-plate umpire, 'We gotta get (the incumbent) outta here!'
While it would be easy to dismiss these incidents as aberrations, I believe they reflect the entire system.
I believe this 'casual' approach to the notion of serving/leading at City Hall reflects not only the way MSM has framed politics, but more importantly, the general profile of the populace.
Finally, I believe that fashioning ''an increase in the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors in local governance' would alleviate the preponderance of such situation, that effecting such a migration would not only provide for a more creditable citizenry ('An educated consumer is our best customer'), but by extension, provide for a much better-equipped pool of candidates.
At least that's my hope.
*This I'll cover in a separate post.