On May 14, both the strength and the Achilles’ heel of democracy will be fully in play in our backyard. Winston Churchill defined democracy as “The worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Churchill saw vividly the particular strengths of democracy displayed in guarantees of free speech, opinion and assembly, as well as the importance in any democratic system of a free press, academic freedom and an independent judiciary.
These guarantees allow us in British Columbia the opportunity to make our electoral judgments with evidence-based understanding of the economic system, as well as of the social and ecological issues society faces. For our system of government allows us to gain necessary knowledge about the private sector as well as about the government’s responsibility to step in to correct for the private sector’s lapses. The vital role of a free university system cannot be overstated with respect to providing the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions.
While a properly functioning democracy provides the resources and the ability for voters to make informed decisions, the recipe is not complete without voters who are willing to put in the time and effort to gain evidence-based knowledge. Learning is hard work — use the democracy or lose it.
There are litanies of examples which reflect the possibilities for democratic failure when voters fail to discharge their responsibilities avidly and wisely. Foremost in my mind’s eye is the democratic failure that ensued in 1932 when Hitler was popularly elected in Germany. Or, closer to home, we all remember the economic and military disasters which were propagated by the popularly elected president of the United States in 2000 and 2004.
Voter behaviour in electing leaders usually bears out my old dictum: The behaviour of government reflects the level of understanding and the moral and ethical values of the society that makes up the economy.
Only a fool would deny that British Columbia faces mounting socioeconomic, political and environmental problems. When anxiety is rampant in society, extreme political positions become the order of the day. This is what we see today in British Columbia. Thus we have the leftist variety promoting continuation of an outdated socialism, or Green Party environmental absolutism; and on the right we have only the ultra-right, promoting a philosophical barbarism that would be comfortable only for John Birchers of the 1950s U.S.A., who once accused President Eisenhower of being a Communist. In the modern Canadian lexicon, this philosophy promotes more guns and lower taxes, to the exclusion of anything in the way of rational conservative policy. Neither side seems to have an inkling of what government’s task is in a mixed economy such as Canada’s.
The issues that matter to society such as the rejection of the modern HST in favour of a continuation of the ludicrously outdated GST and PST, are given short shrift. Believe me, to replace the patronage-driven rascals of the left with the know-nothing rascals of the right is only to sidestep the issues that counts. It is time to address the real issues in the economy that hamper investment in business and employment. We should demand of our public servants that they put aside concern for their own pensions or their semi-corrupt plans for their political afterlife.
The worst failure for the voter, even a dissatisfied knowledgeable voter, is to opt out entirely by not voting. Ultimately, voting is our democratic obligation. If discontent with all the candidates is our prevailing motif, at least cast a blank ballot to express dissatisfaction, but vote. Again, use our most valuable democratic franchise or lose it.