Friday, September 16, 2016

Voter, Inform Thyself

Nation, one of the great truisms of politics is that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing".

Voters who know something to be true - or even worse, FEEL it to be true - will latch on to that thing, disregard all other opinions or contrary facts, and will ride that certainty all the way to the polling station, stopping along the way only to encourage other people to follow them and their way of thinking and to mark their ballot the same way.

This hesitation towards engaging in fulsome discussion and seeking out contrary opinions is understandable. We're busy. We're working a lot - those of us lucky enough to have a job, anyhow. We've got Twitter wars to get into. We have cat videos to watch. Who's got time to discuss issues of policy divergence when ERMAGERDLOOKATDAKITTY...

Sorry. Where was I?

Right. Informed voters.

Most of us don't have the time or inclination to agonize over our choice at the ballot box, or how we feel about a given issue. So we cheat. We watch a video our cousin posted on Facebook about vaccines, and we decide that vaccines are bad. Or we read a 5 paragraph excerpt from a 400-page book with an impressive title about fluoride, and we decide that fluoride is okay. We let ourselves conclude that if every caller to the talk radio show this morning had something bad to say about the Prime Minister, we should probably hate him too. We read a guest column in the paper attacking a member of city council for spending tax dollars on public art, so we decide we have to rid ourselves of that councilor. And maybe of public art, too, while we're at it.

This abdication of our responsibility to our fellow citizens to inform ourselves is a direct threat to our democratic principles. Choosing our representatives based on poor information we cobbled together with the minimal amount of effort - or that well-connected, well-funded campaigns and citizens made sure we'd see - and then ignoring them for 4 years isn't a democracy, it's an oligarchy with an election-day opening act.

Which brings me to the issue of endorsements.

There was a noteworthy, though not-at-all unexpected, endorsement in the news today: PC MLA Mike Ellis, of Calgary-West, endorsed Jason Kenney for Leader of the PCAA.

I don't have any ill will towards Mike Ellis whatsoever. He's a good guy, a very effective MLA, and has been there for the party in the almost 18 months since the election loss, unlike many former MLAs and leadership candidates who completely ghosted once they lost power, resurfacing with a sudden interest in the party's leadership race only when it became apparent the party was unlikely to die on its own. I don't share Ellis' assertion that "Egos and arrogance" are the only reasons the PCAA and Wildrose Parties wouldn't merge, but we're allowed to have differences of opinion. There will likely be other endorsements from within the current PC Caucus coming as well. I'd bet my life on one of them.

However, as I have stated before: Endorsements are, by and large, meaningless. And they SHOULD be.

When we allow a celebrity endorsement of a product or politician to sway us towards buying that product or voting for that candidate, we're telling the world that David Hasselhoff or John Legend are so much better informed than we are that we'll just take their word for it, and do what they tell us to.

Likewise, when we allow an endorsement from a public official or a newspaper editorial to colour our opinion or effect our vote, we're in essence saying "I can't be trusted to make this decision, so someone else should make it for me. Here's my ballot, tell me what to do with it.". It's a dangerous move, with real and lasting implications.

Long-time readers of this blog will note that I don't use this platform to endorse candidates for office. Have I met many of the people I write about in this space? Absolutely. I've had the pleasure of interviewing dozens of candidates for office for this blog and others, and I'd like to think that over the course of my interviews with them I've gotten a good feel for their issues, policy ideas, principles, etc. But whether or not my opinions are informed, the important thing to remember is that they're just MY OPINIONS. What matters to me might not matter to you. And whether or not I like a candidate or a party shouldn't in any way be reflected in your vote. I'll present facts, or an argument, It's up to YOU to decide who to vote for.

There are 2 people who have thus far declared themselves candidates for the PC Leadership. There will likely be more as we get closer to the official launch of the leadership race in 2 weeks. I have met both of the currently declared candidates in the past, and personally like them both. They've articulated distinctly different visions for the future of the PC Party, and that's a good thing. Competing visions for the future is good, and the more of those we have, the better party members will be able to determine which candidate best represents their views.


You've got to WORK for it. Don't just read my blog - or ANY blog - for information about these candidates. Don't take your MLA's word for it on who the best leader will be (that worked out SO well for us and for Alberta last time). Don't wait for the paper to endorse someone. Don't let talk radio do your thinking for you. Don't let retweets and Facebook "shares" from your friends or coworkers decide for you. Don't let someone else tell you what Lougheed would have wanted, or what Ralph would have done.

MEET these candidates. Do your homework. Ask them questions, in person or on social media. And if they don't answer your question, ask them again. Keep asking until you get an answer.

And make sure you elect local delegates to attend the leadership convention who have done the same.

The way the delegated convention works, they'll need to have a second choice, and a third choice, in case their first choice gets eliminated. Even if their first choice isn't one you share, you want thoughtful delegates who aren't going to be swayed by public endorsements from public figures.

After all... you wouldn't want an MLA who voted on your behalf to shut down the oilsands because Leo Di Caprio said it was a good idea, would you? Or a city councilor who voted to give the Flames hundreds of millions of tax dollars for a rink because Gary Bettman said it was a good idea?

You expect your representatives to make good decisions, based on facts and after studying all sides of an issue, regardless of the opinions of celebrities.

Set the example for them.

Get to work.