Canada, too, needs to turn the political page. That process is not assisted when citizens slumber while their political leaders tap dance silently across the stage in the dark, hoping that no one will notice how mediocre they really are.
Half-a-world away, in a country where hostile fire is heard on a regular basis, Canadians lined up to perform the sacred duty of every citizen: to vote. In one advance poll, more than 75 percent of eligible citizens serving in the Canadian combat mission in Kandahar exercised their franchise. Like their grandparents and great-grandparents, who, as members of the greatest generation fought to preserve democracy and defy madmen, they take voting seriously. Many of their comrades in arms have died for that privilege even in this bleak far off land of discord.
In towns and cities across Canada, democracy had a less familiar and imploring face. The line-ups to vote were shorter this year than in previous elections –shorter by 10 million voters. Unlike the United States, which appears to be on the way to producing a record voter turnout, Canada set its own record: its lowest voter participation in history. Only 59.1 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in the federal general election which elected 301 members of the House of Commons and, by extension, the country’s prime minister.
Nothing about this election really clicked with the Canadian citizenry. That seems odd in itself, given that the nation is at war abroad and battling a mounting economic firestorm at home. Canada’s currency was plunging during the course of the campaign. If a dollar falls in a forest of other currencies, will anyone hear it?
I suspect the more likely reason for this bout of apathy had to do with the perceived lameness of Canada’s national leaders. They are essentially dull and unaccomplished individuals of rather unheroic character whose life stories, curricula vitae and inspirational oratory seemed to fall short on the old impress-o-meter.
In the United States today, a phenomenon involving what we termed “the improbably presidential name of Barack Obama” is taking the American political landscape by storm. Voters in record numbers have been registered. Young people in historic waves are set to cast their ballots with an enthusiasm most doubted was possible.
There has been a yearning among Americans for a different kind of leadership that is capable of rising above pettiness and straightjacket-type stereotypes. The country has discovered that elections do have consequences. As both the folly in Iraq and the recent crisis in capitalism confirm, when leaders and policies become disjoined from the interests and values of ordinary people, when the privilege of elites becomes paramount over the primacy of stakeholders, society can find itself navigating a very perilous minefield.
America, once more, is preparing itself to write a new chapter in its historic experiment with democracy, and to pass the torch to a new generation of leader. It is a necessary task in restoring confidence in American leadership abroad as well as the confidence of Americans in themselves and their institutions at home. The journey along this road is both inspiring and riveting, and rarely uneventful. America, it appears, loves times when it is about to make history. No such prospect seems in the offing for Canada.
These facts may well account for what happened in that country last week. So dramatic was the contrast between the two national election campaigns that the excitement emanating from the United States made the Canadian political scene look even more like the embalmed creation of the local undertaker than it normally does. I’ve spent a lot of time over the course of 30 years working for and advising some who have held or aspired to the highest offices in Canada. My experience compels me to make this personal assessment.
Canada had a history of electing grey haired elder statesmen as its head of government for generations. Then John F. Kennedy was elected the 35th president of the United States. Eight years later, Canada discovered a man who was viewed as its own JFK, in the smart, youthful and sometimes irreverent, world-travelled Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He animated elections in a way that had never been seen before. Voter turnout set a record. He became Canada’s 15th prime minister and the rest of the world took note.
Someday the Canadian landscape will change again and find a new figure to excite weary generations, raising the country to new heights of self-confidence and global accomplishment, as Trudeau did. It may be a leader who is not even on the horizon right now. It might even be Trudeau’s son, Justin, who was just elected for the fist time to the House of Commons. But someone will appear on the scene to reinvigorate this somewhat somnolent democracy that has taught many nations important virtues about governance and has stood tall when the cause of freedom was in peril.
None of this excuses the millions who could not be bothered to show up last week, however. At a time when the nation has asked its young people to put their lives on the line, every Canadian had an obligation to at least support their troops by exercising the right to vote. This is how citizens remind the governors that they are accountable to the governed.
Canada, too, needs to turn the page. That process is not assisted when citizens slumber while their political leaders tap dance silently across the stage in the dark, hoping that no one will notice how mediocre they really are. Such political types are not terribly bothered by the lack of turnout; they thrive in a climate of uninvolved citizens who are loath to ask hard questions or demand higher standards from the people seeking office. Growth in an already over abundant class of untalented and self-serving politicians is never to be lightly tolerated. So it is the shortsighted actions of those 10 million Canadians who never showed up that are our choice for the Outrage of the Week.