Five Ways To Protect Our Democracy
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” - Winston Churchill
Have you ever tried to do what Winston Churchill suggested? I have. I used to be a cameraman for broadcast news. Most notably, I shot for Citytv Calgary, but I’ve worked at all the networks apart from CBC. Whenever an election rolled around and the nightly newscast was light on material, the news director would assign us to hit the street and ask random people what concerned them in this election. Cameramen always dreaded this assignment, especially during the winter months, because we knew how painful and long the process was going to be. Why was it painful and long?
Because asking random people about politics is embarrassingly...terribly..."enlightening". When you hit the street, usually somewhere busy like downtown or a trendy neighbourhood, you begin to scan walkers and assess them for approachability. If they are power walking or really weird looking, you tend to ignore them. When you find a normal looking human, you meekly approach so as not to scare them away with the shoulder mounted camera, you introduce yourself and ask if they’d like to be on television because you’re doing a story about the election and asking people about their thoughts. They usually giggle and have “Who me!?” type attitudes, but are game to co-operate. You start rolling the camera and hold out the microphone and ask the first question.
“In this election, what are the issues that are important to you?”
This is where it gets bad. The usual response is a deer-in-the-headlights look. Then realizing that the camera is rolling, they quickly regroup and think. Why do they think? Because they haven’t ever thought about the question before. They don’t have issues that are important to them. The camera is still rolling and they have to say something so what do they say?
They say “healthcare” or “the environment” or “the economy”. Big general issues that are so broad that it could mean almost anything. Follow up questions are then necessary obviously, because these responses run back-to-back on television and I can’t use a clip with only one word like “economy”. You gotta tell me something that we can air. You gotta string a couple of sentences together.
“What exactly is it about health-care/environment/economy that is important to you?”
Now they really struggle...and ramble. They say stuff like…
"Well I think that, uh...healthcare is important because we need to have good healthcare and people shouldn’t have to wait."
"The economy is important because times are tough right now and we need a strong economy."
"The environment is uh...you know...we need to leave a clean environment for our children."
It’s just piles of stuff like that. Piles of it. Sometimes you get a wild card and some single issue voter gives a diatribe about a current event like refugees or something. Those are what you hope for...people who can string a few sentences together so you can fill your clip segment easier. Most of the time nobody has an opinion about anything and, as a result, they haven’t got much of anything to say. So yeah, it takes a long time to grab 30 seconds worth of streeter comments for that supper hour newscast.
Elections then take place and people are appalled at the low turnout and the lack of young people participating etc, etc, etc. Then we get news stories about why people aren’t participating and why turnouts are low. Experts muse about people feeling powerless and voters complain about a lack of information. Theories are floated about politics not reaching out enough or the busy pace of modern life forcing people to given up awareness. Perhaps people are cynical about our electoral system due to the wasted votes in the first-past-the-post system. Maybe it’s that we can’t trust politicians because they’re all in it for themselves and will say anything to get elected and will be unaccountable after they win.
It’s all wrong.
The real reason people don’t vote is because they don’t know and they don’t care. So what can be done? How can we make a better voter, while protecting the integrity of our electoral system from morons?
Here are five solutions.
#1. Strengthen the Senate
Twenty years ago, the Reform Party lead the vanguard towards Senate reform. It’s now fashionable for all parties to criticize the Senate. The NDP wants to abolish the senate, the Liberals want to create a structure that allows elitist appointments and the Conservatives just ignore it altogether.
I say let’s just embrace the Senate...even though it blows.
Maintain the Senate, put up with the random scandals that pop up every now and then and appreciate that it functions as a wall of anti-mob prevention. God forbid the NDP ever win an election, but if they do...their legislation will have to make it through the Senate. For this reason the Senate needs to be strengthened not attacked.
The Senate saves us from accidents of democracy. When we need it, we’ll be glad we have it.
#2. Fight mandatory voting
Think about how dumb the average person is. Now, realize that for that person to be the average, half of all people are dumber than that! Forcing morons to participate is not going to give us better government. That’s what mandatory voting begets. Mass moron voting. If people don’t know and people don’t care, then they shouldn’t be forced to mess up our government with their ill informed votes.
Countries with mandatory voting include North Korea, most of South America and Australia (4 Prime Ministers in 5 years? Good job mob voters...good job).
Not exactly a success story, is it?
#3. Do not encourage voting
Elections Canada does a good job providing information to those who seek it. Beyond that...do not encourage voting. Do not "Rock the Vote". If you need to be encouraged to vote then you are probably not the type of person that will add value to the quality of government in the first place. See #2 above.
#4. Introduce mandatory civics class in highschool
In order to prevent #2 and #3 above, we need a dedicated class in highschool teaching kids about politics, government and civics in general. It needs to be extensive and long and at least one semester. Don’t lump it in with history or social studies. Dedicate the class to politics and government and make it mandatory.
Kids are wasting time reading Shakespeare and learning Algebra and they’re coming out of school into a 21st century that has no use for them. Equipping them with enough knowledge that they can vote without ruining the country isn’t asking too much.
#5. Long campaigns
Every campaign should be a minimum of the 77 days, like what we’re experiencing in this election. Having a massively long campaign allows people who don’t care about politics to wake up and evaluate things over a longer period of time. More time means more reflection and awareness and meaningful choices. The worst thing for Canada would be to have situations we’ve seen provincially where the mob makes hasty decisions on a lark and votes in the NDP like they did in Alberta this year. Democracy is the best form of government, but it still has room for error. A long campaign allows for smarter outcomes.