Do you mistrust politicians -- or should politicians mistrust you?

Posted 11.04.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Recent municipal elections across the country (our elections come in two years) resulted in several upsets, prompting commentators to see a wave of voter discontent and alienation. My suspicion is these commentators are probably feeling the electoral hysteria south of the border, more than our own, but we did see Ottawa's incumbent dumped, Calgary's dark-horse a victor, and Toronto's mini-version of the Tea Party come to power. Similar things happened in the races for city council seats.

Are we witnessing a real turnaround in voter loyalties? And, if so, can we expect any upsets in Gatineau's coming council election? One of our letter-writers thinks so, but voter distrust of politicians is nothing new, and there hardly seems cause for it to burst into full daylight now.

Money is tight, certainly, but spending by councils has always been contentious and always has attracted close scrutiny. Why would it now turn the municipal world upside down? Do we citizens really have cause to mistrust our leaders?

Or do our leaders have cause to mistrust us?

Politicians don't talk about it, but we can be sure they must wonder about the electorate's sanity and commitment. Top of the list, why do so few citizens actually vote in municipal elections? The voting rate hovers well below half, and if it approaches fifty percent of eligible voters, the media crazily declares a landslide. Do political leaders wonder about our real interest in city council if the majority of us don't even bother to vote?

Do citizens in general read up on the issues? Do they go to debates? Do they welcome canvassers with questions about the issues? Do citizens even know what municipal politicians can do, compared to the jurisdictions of provincial and federal politicians?

The answer to such questions is simple: Nope.

In the last Ottawa council election, Alex Munter was rejected in the last few days (according to polling) -- because he is gay. His opponents launched exposés of his private life, and the voters bought into that homophobia. Does that quality them to vote? Nor was this a singularity. This month's election in Toronto saw one of the two front-runners also attacked for his sexual preferences; the voters bought into the negative campaign.

We shouldn't say much about the quality of voter knowledge and preparation in the USA. Here at home we have councilors attacked for zoning changes made over ten years ago; voters complain that city politicians aren't bringing in doctors or stopping immigration -- areas where city councils have no say whatsoever.

So if you and I were running for office, would we want to trust our choice to citizens who don't know the issues, don't know us, don't know what we can and can't work on?

These are citizens who don't care enough to look up the issues or the candidates.

Should such citizens even have the right to vote? Politicians have a right to wonder.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/11.10