Introduction: Talking About All the Wrong Things
One of the things I love about this blog and about my area of scholarship in general is that we not only engage but revel in discussing and debating ‘all the wrong things.’ As a child growing up in a rather traditional English family not only was I meant to ‘restrict my comments to the weather or keep quiet’ when feeling dodgy, but also to ‘never speak about politics or religion in polite company.’ It is safe to say that, as a grown adult, if I have something negative to express I could care less about the subject of meteorology and my personality near forbids me to keep important issues of conveyance to myself. Furthermore, I have devoted my life to the interaction of religion and politics (in that order) and I, like others who contribute to and read this blog, am enthralled by the study and progression of such important matters as ‘religion in the public sphere.’ And so it is with this small preface that I am using my opportunity to blog to say something about the upcoming federal election. So here we go…
Scare Tactics as Undemocratic
As you might guess from the above subtitle, I am repulsed by any effort to scare people into voting for them. Every time I see that advert by the Conservatives with the woman sitting on her couch, bill in hand and coffee and calculator nearby, with the ominous voice-over insisting upon a Con-vote (pun intended) by talking to me like an idiot who cannot sort her own monthly bills, I have to change the channel or walk away. I am so enraged with scare tactics because they are an insult to my, and our, intelligence. Indeed, to believe such ridiculousness I must have had my eyes and ears closed for a good long time and refused to inform myself of the larger issues at play in this election. Am I – are we – so feeble and ignorant that we need to be threatened with fear mongering?
In the current issue of Now Magazine (April 28–May 4, 2011), there is an article entitled, “Harper’s Insult to our Body Politic,” by George Elliot Clarke. In this article, in the very first line, Mr. Clarke, himself, brings his own kind of Godtalk into our current political situation by stating that, “[i]n politics, sometimes nothing succeeds like deceit. Thus, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is again warning Canadians that if voters don’t give him a majority government on May 2, they can expect an undemocratic conclusion to his administration. That is, an unholy trinity of ‘socialists and separatists’ will oust him from office” (16). An unholy trinity of all that is non-Con? To Mr. Harper I respond: you’ve lead our country into the shit, been held in contempt of parliament, spent millions of our tax dollars on ad campaigns for programs that are over and lied to us time and again. And yet we should ignore all of this and vote strategically out of fear of a - here comes the word - coalition? Oh dear! God forbid people vote according to their conscience and not submit to the politics of fear?!
The Supposed Imperative of Strategic Voting
I wish that the politics of fear being levied against Canadians was solely a Con-M.O., but alas most of the other parties are ‘gettin’ down and dirty’ with the rest of them. What’s more, however, is that those positioned on the left side of this election are now going on about strategic voting in similar tones of fear. In the same issue of Now, Michael Hollett, in his article “Yes We Can – Take Back Canada,” betrays any sense of supposed journalistic objectivity when he writes that now is the “time for timid strategic vote peddlers and progressives to get behind the one party of renewal and vision – the NDP. This election, the wasted votes are for the Liberals and the Greens” (17). Mr. Hollett even goes so far as to insist that in order to beat out the Conservatives, all left-leaning voters need to get behind “the only truly progressive party, the New Democrats” (17). Really?! Is that kind of hyperbole useful in such a context: ‘only and truly’? Just because the media refuses to cover and include the Green Party does that mean its progressive platform and the party itself has ceased to exist?
Ms. Alice Klein, who has been a Now fav of mine for awhile, starts her article, “Don’t Waste NDP Surge Opportunity,” seemingly well, writing that the “strategic vote, from the point of view of defeating the Conservatives, does not favour the NDP, the Liberals or the Bloc or Greens. It varies on a riding-by-riding basis… [and so, i]n most cases, choosing the candidate you like best is perfect” (24). Finally, someone who thinks I might be able to inform myself and choose the person whom I feel represents my position best! Alas, no, for she continues on to say that, “[i]f you are an NDPer or Green swap your vote at pairvote.ca and keep the Cons at bay by voting for Liberal” (24). Ms. Klein even continues on by accusing those who do not relent and vote strategically of wearing “ideological blinders” that need to be removed so we can “embrace cooperation to create the Canada we communally envision” (24). So, now, if I don’t vote strategically for the Liberals I am uncooperative in a communal vision of Canada?!
Some of you reading this might be trying to guess the party for which I will be voting on Monday or perhaps it is already clear. I don’t know. I can tell you that I don’t like the queues on election day and so I voted over a week ago with a special ballot and so I write this knowing my contribution to our democracy. But the point of my little article is not to outline my affiliation, justify it and try and convince you to vote the same. Nor is my purpose to plug Now Magazine; I cite it only because it is a free source of news and political opinion and something I know lots of younger (and older) voters read on a weekly basis. My goal in writing this diatribe of sorts is to encourage people to vote as their conscience sees fit. I write to urge people to inform themselves and make decisions on what they believe is best not only for themselves but for our country, society and culture as a whole. I impel you to engage our democracy authentically.
Conclusion: The Translation Endeavour in the Public Sphere
In my spare time I volunteer as a pastoral care worker / assistant chaplain at a long-term care facility for elderly people in downtown Toronto. In my visits last week, some of the residents were inclined to discuss the upcoming federal election and, as you can likely imagine, some were more able to grasp the issues than others. One man, whose ability to communicate is severely limited at this point in his long life, could not contribute much to our conversation except to ask me one important question: “what would the world be if we didn’t follow our conscience?” In his soft, old and wise eyes was an understanding well beyond my years, but his question stayed with me all day and all week and it inspired me write this blog.
When we talk about ‘religion in the public sphere’ it is so very important to understand that for each faith to which a person may confess (including atheism and agnosticism), there is an opportunity to translate those faith claims into the public sphere. This process of translating religious beliefs and language thereof into the more generally accessible language of democracy and human rights is our right as citizens of a free and multicultural society, like Canada. Our democracy craves the honest engagement of citizens who follow their consciences in all their diversity; this is our Canadian mosaic.
So, on Monday May 2, please do what some people around the world are crying out for: uphold your democratic right and VOTE! But, please, ignore the fear mongers and strategists and vote according to your conscience!
* To read the articles I cited in this blog, please check out the issue of Now Magazine currently available or read it online at http://www.nowtoronto.com/.