June 24, 2022

Pearson: It’s time to demand better from political candidates

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It’s election season, with the usual trappings: signs, debates, canvassing, volunteers, literature, fundraising, questionnaires, candidate websites and social media pages.

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But a growing number of voters are admitting to being disillusioned with modern politics for other reasons: hyper-partisanship, attack advertisements, spurious statements, and a political party apparatus that seems increasingly disconnected from average citizens. The dismal effects are there for everyone, regardless of all the political energies invested in the campaign.

These negatives abound just when a new kind of democracy is needed. Politics has always been about opinions, policies, research and respectful collaboration. The latter value has fallen off the political radar, making modern campaigns so negative or detached that average citizens turn away in disillusion.

It’s a shame, because the challenges we face as a city, country and world are so great that only a cooperative and inclusive relationship between political factions can hope to develop effective solutions. Policy differences are expected; the destruction of democracy and public trust is not.

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Inevitably, when this topic comes up in conversation, someone will point out that it’s just the fad of modern politics and to expect anything else is naïve. There is some truth in that. But how is this new, more brutal political reality faring? When there is more heat than light, hatred than compassion, name calling than respect, how can we expect this form of politics to push us back from the edge? We cannot, because he is far more influential in tearing us apart than bringing us together to face the future.

We now live in a massively contrary world – rich and poor, love of nature while ironically destroying it, the ideal of democracy versus the reality of politics, and the growing possibility of war versus peace. How can we find a way forward in such an environment with our self-destructing politics?

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New York Times journalist Ezra Klein speaks of the futility of such political maneuvering: “We are so locked into our political identities that there are virtually no candidates, no information, no conditions that can force us to change of opinion. We will justify almost anything or anyone as long as it helps our side, and the result is a policy devoid of safeguards, standards, persuasion or accountability.

We see it everywhere we turn. Well-meaning candidates speak of collaboration and openness to ideas, but limit themselves to satisfying their respective political party and its leaders instead of their ideals. If our political representatives cannot find new ways to build on common ground, is it any wonder that our communities have difficulty finding a common vision?

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What is curious is that most citizens of Canada, or of London, are not like that. Despite our differences, we continue to get together with other parents at hockey games. We volunteer with charities, respect other faiths, and discover new opportunities in the workplace. We help our neighbors and avoid bigotry. We are aware of our past failures and seek to correct them. We take care of this city and our fellow citizens who make this community what it is.

Despite these common traits, we allow more radical politics to meddle with us, to anger us, in an effort to gain a path to power. We all know there is no future, but we tolerate it anyway.

It is time for this fatal acquiescence to end.

In too many ways to count, our politics are becoming more extreme than the communities they represent, which is why Canadians are growing increasingly fed up. The more partisan we become, the more the future slips away from us.

Right now, many sincere women and men are asking for our vote, believing they can make a difference in our lives. The reality could be the opposite. We have reached the stage where only well-meaning citizens can save democracy and empower politicians.

It’s time to start reminding candidates that we deserve and expect better. They can smash the most extreme policies plaguing their parties if they wish and in doing so win our support.

Glen Pearson is co-director of the London Food Bank and former Liberal MP for London North Centre.

[email protected]

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