When the Canadian election was called (September 7/08) I confess that I was momentarily relieved that the campaign itself would be relatively short (if not sweet!). I got a bit weary of the long and winding campaign trail in the States months ago, and felt a certain Canadian smugness that we could call and hold an election in a fraction of the time (and I presume cost!) of the American system. But, with only 8 days left until the votes will be cast and counted (on October 14), I'm beginning to wish that we had a bit more time.
The pollsters and the media have quickly risen to the challenge of a short campaign. Each of the parties has hastily formulated platforms and signs are ornamenting private lawns and public spaces. The leaders have had their televised debates. All of the necessary bits and pieces are falling into place. But who to vote for? Beyond all the rhetoric and innuendo, the party politics and the smoke and mirrors, who is worthy of understanding these times we live in and providing the kind of leadership that is required? Can I trust one party over another? Which leader would make the best prime minister? Which of the local candidates in my riding is most likely to serve his or her constituency with integrity
I'm on the email lists of a number of organizations that have sent out election guides to help people like me talk to the candidates about a variety of issues. Most of them are tastefully and tactfully done - giving suggestions concerning the kinds of questions we might ask candidates - about poverty, the Millennium Development Goals (specifically Canada's obligation to honor our commitment to give 0.7% of our GNP for development), the right to water, homelessness at home, services for seniors and single parents - and so on. Some of the emails I've received though, have been intensely partisan - one organization was fund raising for an anti-Harper ad campaign. In fact, come to think of it, there has been a lot of anti-Harper sentiment (even a facebook movement to engage young adults in vote swapping in order to wrest key ridings from Conservative candidates!). It all makes we wonder if any ONE political leader can really be an authentic hero or villain - is Harper to be "blamed" for the policies that I find problematic? Could another leader "solve" some of those problems?
I find it interesting that we can so quickly "blame" our political leaders for all of our woes and - it would follow - that we presume that our political system can somehow be counted on to "fix" the problems it has caused. It seems to me that elections often bring out our true colors - that is, we want to support candidates that can do it all: make life easier and better for us and also do something about the really big issues like climate change, the global food crisis, the impending global economic recession, the war in Afghanistan, terrorism, poverty, etc. But do we REALLY expect them to do anything about those global issues? That might be asking too much, so we settle for what they can do closer to home - our home. What will they actually do in my community, in my province, in Canada? Let's not kid ourselves - politics is about power and the way to have power is to get elected and re-elected. The way to get elected is to give people what they want.
The way I see it, global issues won't be priorities for our political leaders until they are truly our own priorities. Until we can say - with total sincerity - that we want our government to put the needs of the global poor AHEAD of our own comforts. Until we release our governments from the expectation that the measure of their success is improving our economy and our standard of living. Until the MAJORITY of Canadians will actually VOTE for a candidate who promises to REDUCE our standard of living and invest instead in the economies and infrastructure of low income countries.
I know - I'm naive. Who's going to vote for that kind of candidate? In fact, how would that kind of candidate even get into the race? But seriously - we are living WAY beyond our means (currently spending $1.25 for every $1.00 we earn and with a national consumer debt load of $1.17 Trillion dollars!). [For a comprehensive look at debt in Canada, see http://www.cga-canada.org/en-ca/ResearchReports/ca_rep_2007-10_debt-consumption.pdf]. Doesn't anyone else feel like we're on a massive roller coaster and nearing the peak - we don't know exactly what's on the other side of the peak but we know it's going to be a wild ride. We can only hope that the structural supports can keep the cars on the track!
So, having said all this, despite wishing we had more time, I'm off to the advance polls to cast my vote (since I'll be on the road next week). The option I really want isn't one of my choices but I will vote nonetheless because, the way I see it, living out my faith means participating in the political process, flawed though it may be. And then, after I vote, I'll continue to work at transforming my own attitudes and encouraging others to keep examining our lives in light of global realities. It's all part of living simply, living justly, living faithfully!