Political Change Overtakes Candidates, Leaders
Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, November 3 / 14
It is a time of elections and the stress that comes with votes and anticipated results. Of course, democracy is better than dictatorship. It’s just that we wouldn’t have to worry about who was going to win (or lose) if we didn’t have the vote! We’d likely have other things to worry about, like who was going to come in the dead of night and take us away for wanting to be able to vote.
We’ve just experienced civic and municipal elections across Canada during the last week of October. In some cases, prominent mayoral candidates on the so-called Left didn’t do as well as expected – in Winnipeg, Brandon and Toronto, for instance. Centrist and more-to-the-so-called-Right mayoral candidates did very well in those cities while observers feel that elected councils actually moved somewhat leftward on the political spectrum, setting up interesting times in City Halls.
Provincially, our Premier has been experiencing something of a revolt as his party’s support in the polls has been stagnant around 30% and an election looms just more than a year away. This is happening despite the fact that Greg Selinger won the NDP’s largest number of seats and fourth consecutive majority mandate not too long ago.
Federally, our Prime Minister is also seen as facing his “last days” although the tragic events in Ottawa recently may ironically give his popularity a boost. The conservative British Economist magazine recently opined that Stephen Harper had done his best to remake Canada over the past ten years but that now Canadians were tired of him and wanted to return to more Liberal politics in the next election, now less than a year away.
One of the largest and youngest democracies in our world, Brazil, held its national election on October 26th. Dilma Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla fighter and now leader of the Workers Party, which has been in power since 2003, was returned to office for a second four-year term, but with only 52% of the vote. Her opposition, the more right-leaning Social Democratic Party did very well in what was Brazil’s closest ever election.
What the Workers Party offers to the people of Brazil is a guarantee of social programs – health, public transportation, a rising minimum wage and education – in a country where some are very well off, but many are abjectly poor and depend on government to get by. What the Social Democrats want is a more business-friendly government with less red tape and taxes, hoping that the once buoyant Brazilian economy can take off again.
All Brazilians want a government with much less corruption and the renewed energy to tackle emerging issues such as growing quality of life expectations, a deteriorating environment and unstable capital markets. With a smaller mandate after the close vote, with pressure by business to disregard the effects of large-scale farming on the Amazon, with decreasing demand from China for Brazilian exports, and with a growing controversy around corruption issues, it looks like a difficult road ahead for the newly re-elected government.
Rousseff has promised to bring greater dialogue to the Brazilian democracy in the face of a very divided electorate. In Winnipeg, our new Mayor – although with a very large mandate – has also promised to consult other candidates for his job to listen to their ideas for the city. Some call this “the new politics”, but others – more cynical in their thinking – doubt that this attitude is sincere and expect that “old politics” will soon be back in operation, just with new players.
A new book on electoral politics in Canada observed that our demographics have changed so greatly in recent years that politicians are having trouble keeping up with the trends. The greater number of “new Canadians” immigrating to our country may make our politics more conservative. It will also mean that our political arena, which was once the purview of white, middle and upper class males, will now have more women and people of a range of multicultural backgrounds. The Manitoba government has embraced this with a large number of women MLAs and Cabinet Ministers, and Canada’s first woman of colour Minister.
As well, with the incredible growth of cities – Toronto is now behind only New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City in size in North America – the political clout of rural areas and small towns – and therefore farmers and other rural people - will continue to decline. Vancouver is another one of the fastest growing urban areas on the planet.
Our world is in flux and it may be getting harder to predict how that will play out in our political lives. To ensure a vibrant and substantive democracy – more than just going to vote every few years – we need a citizenry that is engaged in the issues of the day and a government that is willing to listen and to act.
Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of the Marquis Project in Brandon.
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