As much as it pains me to say this, I think David Moscrop touches on a fair point in his latest column. His tone may tend toward academic condescension (that’s kind of his thing), but I agree that, if democracy is to be an exercise of informed consent, the degree to which we are informed merits reflection.
A friend recently pointed out an interesting leap in logic in one of Tim Hudak’s campaign promises. Yet another among the endless list of politicians to make job creation promises during election season, Hudak decided to distinguish himself from the pack by going big, claiming he will create 1 million jobs. (Picturing a Dr. Evil-style pinky finger pose and maniacal laughter here is optional, but encouraged.)
Two things about this:
- As per February’s labour market report, there are roughly 555,000 unemployed people in Ontario.
- Unemployment has never been (and will never be) 0% for the simple reason that not every person is able to work for a whole slew of reasons — including, but not limited to: health concerns, taking on unpaid or unrecognized work such as caring for an elderly family member or child, or focusing on full-time studies.
My friend and I wondered if Hudak really planned to eradicate unemployment by creating nearly twice as many jobs as unemployed people, which seemed odd. What we’d missed was that his plan is to create a million jobs over the course of 8 years, which, while still ambitious, makes more sense. (There remain a number of other concerns around Hudak’s math and how jobs are counted, but that’s besides the point of this post.)
While my friend saw this math as the kind of incredibly straightforward thing that should be obvious to voters, I pointed out that the average Ontarian doesn’t keep track of unemployment numbers, and casually remarked that “people aren’t that smart,” for which he called me out. — Rightly so. I misspoke. What I meant was that people don’t tend to pay close attention to details like this, which means that they often aren’t as informed as they could be come election time.
I mean, the above example is basic math! But if people don’t know the numbers or stop to ask questions, then what happens at the polls? If electing representatives is to give others our consent so they may represent our interests for years until the next election, and that consent is uninformed, then doesn’t that call into question the legitimacy of our whole system?
Ironically, neither my friend nor I realized the over-8-years context of Hudak’s plan, and we’re both political nerds. I love politics. I do my best to pay attention. I’ve developed an unhealthy Twitter addiction (though I’ve admittedly been rather quiet lately). I have all of the Canadian news apps (AFAIK) and get all the alerts. I watch CPAC and go to committees sometimes. I still can’t keep up with everything. There’s just a lot.
So then, what level of ‘informed’ should one expect from voters? Who qualifies as an informed voter? I guess that’s a slippery slope.
Surely, though, if I can do this much on top of whatever responsibilities I have on my plate, everyday Canadians can at least make an effort to look up party platforms and dig a little to inform themselves before heading to the ballot box, as opposed to going simply out of habit — arguably the bare minimum for civic responsibility. Individuals should vote for a party they believe in or a candidate they feel strongly about; not simply tick a box out of perceived obligation, or because they or their families have always voted a certain way.
Bear in mind the old adage: we get the politicians we deserve.