1. Voter turnout
It’s been declining for decades, but at 53.55 per cent, voter turnout was a record low for Tuesday’s provincial election. Part of that was by design. Stephen McNeil knows that low voter turnout generally benefits the party in power, and he certainly did everything in his power to schedule the election to best minimize turnout — he called the election on a weekend and scheduled it for after the universities let out and just before the summer.
It’s a truism that low voter turnout is a bad thing, but the explanations for why it’s a bad thing usually aren’t very thoughtful. For the most part, low voter turnout is a bad thing because it’s a bad thing.
Worse, the solution for many people is to shame people who don’t vote, and to suggest horrible solutions like internet elections or compulsory voting.
But low voter turnout is only a symptom of a bad thing, and not a bad thing in itself.
Before getting into that, let’s acknowledge that there are people with principled reasons for not voting.
Mark Coffin, of the Springtide Collective, brings it to my attention that since the 1990s the Nova Scotia House of Assembly Act gives the Mi’kmaq people a seat in the legislature:
6 (1) The House hereby declares its intention to include as an additional member a person who represents the Mi’kmaq people, such member to be chosen and to sit in a manner and upon terms agreed to and approved by representatives of the Mi’kmaq people.
The Mi’kmaq, however, have declined to choose such a representative. My understanding is that they have declined the seat for principled reasons: They see their treaty relationship with the Nova Scotia government as that of an agreement between equal governments. To sit in the legislature is to agree that they are subservient to the provincial government, so they don’t take that seat. (If I have any part of this wrong, I hope to be corrected.) For much the same reason, many First Nations people refuse to vote in Canadian or provincial elections because they don’t recognize the Canadian and provincial governments as legitimate.
There are others that have principled reasons for not voting. Anarchists, for example. reject the entire idea of government, and voting legitimizes the thing they disdain. Some people refuse to vote because they view our government as imperialistic or they see our representative democratic system as a manifestation of capitalism.
You don’t have to be Mi’kmaq, an anarchist, an anti-imperialist, or an anti-capitalist, or agree with them, to recognize that there are people who have principled stands against voting. To suggest compulsory voting is to say that you want to force those people with principled stands against voting to vote. Compulsory voting, then, is itself imperialist.
Of course most people who don’t vote likely haven’t thought it through to the point that they have principled stands about it. I can’t read their minds, but my sense is that many of them just have a general feel that it’s not something they want to bother with.
But whether thought through or not, we shouldn’t discount not voting as simple apathy and void of any political content. As Mary Campbell points out:
People like to vote. They’ll do it daily for weeks to try and get Ron MacLean to declare their town a “Hockey Town.” They’ll do it daily for weeks to help their favorite local band win the CBC Spotlight contest. They’ll do it daily for weeks to get a local baseball team recognized for its good deeds. They’ll even do it in those Cape Breton Post polls, taking the time to answer (with delightful regularity) “No” to questions like, “Will you be attending [insert name of high profile local event here]?”
I could add that only cranks and malcontents like myself object to social media advertising campaigns disguised as charity that encourage people to vote in contests for which nonprofit the multibillion dollar insurance company will throw a few bones to, which lighthouse will get funded, or which crappy, run-down business street will get painted — everyone else seems to joyfully jump on the bandwagon, uncritically thinking they’re doing some positive good in the world. Vote, vote, vote! We’re supposed to vote every day, encourage our friends and family to vote, become invested in the outcome.
So it’s really something when our vote-happy citizenry refuses to become invested in the political process and declines to vote. It may not be thought out or articulated, but the message is loud and clear all the same: something ain’t right here, and people are increasingly refusing to play along.
I was thinking about this yesterday, and posted this on Facebook:
Voter turnout is merely a signal, an indicator.
If someone is losing weight at an alarming rate because they are sick and vomiting up all their food, we don’t simply force food down their throats so they’ll gain more weight. Instead, we try to address the underlying sickness.
In much the same way, when the body politic is sick and that sickness expresses itself in lower voter turnout, we shouldn’t simply force people to vote. That doesn’t address the underlying sickness at all.
And yet, that’s what I’m seeing all over the place this morning: People who don’t vote suck! We should force people to vote like they do in Australia! Etc.
Instead, we should ask ourselves why people don’t vote. Why are people disengaged? As I see it, low voter turnout has nothing to do with “apathy” or all the other ways we put this on individual people — it’s a kind of victim blaming, really — instead of blaming the political culture itself.
I don’t have time or space to get into it here, but I’d argue that it is precisely our society’s increasing emphasis on individual behaviour and the shift in value systems to one that only values individual consumption, at the expense of communal wealth, that leads to lower voter turnout. Put simply: we have so disparaged the notion of a shared community, with shared obligations to each other, that individual people increasingly see no purpose in voting. And I’d date that shift to exactly 1979 and 1980, the elections of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and ever since, with the success of a neoliberal world view.
In the comments, I tried three versions of another metaphor. In the first, I said complaining about people not voting is like opening a restaurant with really crappy food and a horrible atmosphere, and then complaining that you don’t have enough customers.
That didn’t seem quite right, so I tried again: It’s like having a restaurant with good food, but then giving the bill to the guy living in a box in the alley behind.
No, that didn’t work either, so I tried a third time: It’s like a really, really good restaurant, with excellent food. The very rich people who patronize the place will leave completely satisfied no matter what they’re served. But the servers go out into the alley and ask the guy in the box to pick the menu items for the rich folk inside.
In this metaphor, the rich diners are the wealthy who primarily benefit from our political system; the servers are the political parties; the menu choices are the candidates on the ballot; and the guy in the box in the alley is the sucker voter. Is it any wonder the guy in the box doesn’t want to keep playing along?
Also in the comments, my good friend Chuck points out that the decline in voting turnout mirrors the decline in union membership, which has “has forced people to pursue individual survival strategies. This effectively isolates people, making them less politically active and apathetic.” Other commenters had other explanations.
None of these explanations are perfect, but they’re an attempt to push back on the notion that not voting is simply an individual character flaw and not reflective of greater problems in our society and our political economy. I guess it’s easy to just blame individual people and not think any further. Maybe blaming individual people has something to do with our social media shaming culture. I know it definitely reflects a world view that we are all atomized individuals, utterly disconnected from and in perpetual competition with each other.
In this latter sense, voting is merely a contest. The winner…wins! The contest is everything — every goddamned thing on this planet is part of the game, and nothing exists outside it. There’s no affirmation of any bigger ideal, no shared purpose, no hope for anything more.
To the extent that people are rejecting that framing of voting, it’s a good thing. If we want people to vote, then maybe we should give them something to vote for besides the vote itself.
2. Michelle Coffin
Writing for The Coast, Maggie Rahr speaks with Michelle Coffin, the woman who was assaulted by Stephen McNeil’s spokesperson, Kyley Harris.
“Everyone has had a chance to tell this story — about me — but me,” Coffin told Rahr. “And now I’m reclaiming it.”
What made Coffin decide to go public? The Liberal campaign showed up on her doorstep during the campaign in the form of candidate Labi Kousoulis, MP Andy Filmore, and a campaign worker:
“What are your views on domestic assault?” she asked, without identifying herself as either a former Liberal staffer or the woman attacked by Harris. “What are your views on violence against women?”
Kousoulis answered right away. Without mentioning a name, he reportedly said “that individual” is no longer in the position. The candidate went on to say that Harris struggled to find work after his sentencing, and McNeil had wanted to offer help.
“The premier called all of the women’s organizations and asked what they thought,” Kousoulis explained, “and they unanimously said that he should be rehired.”
Coffin concluded that Kousoulis either misspoke, was parroting a spoon-fed Liberal talking point, or was knowingly lying to her face.
Rahr goes on to fact-check Kousoulis’s claim that the premier called women’s organizations, and finds it wanting.
The story that never dies… a correction of a correction.
Jennifer Henderson talks to the co-producer of Maudie, who says that Nova Scotia lost out from the possibility that at least some of the film would be filmed in this province because Stephen McNeil cut the film tax credit.
Click here to read “Epilogue, Maudie: Part 4.”
This story is kind of driving me nuts. As we first published it, the article wasn’t sufficiently sourced (one source wasn’t enough for such a politically charged story) and had a factual error in it but, as it turns out, it was essentially correct — as Henderson points out in the revised article, both the co-producer and the director of Maudie are sticking to their story that they moved filming to Newfoundland in part because of the cut to the film tax credit. But already people are arguing about that — they hadn’t actually filed the paperwork for the credit, so you can’t really say they were cut off from it… and on and on we’ll argue, I suppose.
4. The Cape Breton vote
“I watched CBC Nova Scotia’s election night coverage, which meant I watched three Haligonians sitting at a desk in Halifax interpreting the ‘message’ being sent by Cape Breton and three reporters stationed at the campaign headquarters of the three leaders, all of which were on the mainland,” writes Mary Campbell for the Cape Breton Spectator:
Healthcare and “traditional union sentiment” were the go-to explanations for Cape Breton’s decision to turf three Liberal incumbents (Michel Samson, Pam Eyking and Dave Wilton) and scare the bejesus out of two others (Geoff MacLellan and Derek Mombourquette).
Interestingly, the question of child poverty wasn’t raised, that I heard, nor was the issue of underfunded equalization, and as for unemployment and out-migration, they’re cited the way you’d cite “spruce trees” or “salt water” — like things that are simply part of our landscape.
Everyone, I think, would have had a much clearer idea of what was up Cape Breton’s nose if the powers that be had heeded CBU political scientist Tom Urbaniak’s call for a leaders’ debate in Cape Breton, about Cape Breton but the idea didn’t seem to gain traction with any political party. (And for the record, I would not object to a debate in the Annapolis Valley about the Annapolis Valley, or on the South Shore about the South Shore either; I think it would be healthy to shift the discussion, literally, away from Halifax.)
If I had to interpret the message sent by Cape Breton, I’d say it was that our representatives need to represent us.
Click here to read “Election 2017: What Did Cape Breton Just Say?”
As with the Examiner, the Spectator is subscriber-supported. Click here to purchase a subscription.
5. The other McNeils
On Tuesday, the Liberals were reelected to a majority government, ensuring that Premier Stephen McNeil would continue in office. On Wednesday, it was announced that another McNeil — Robin McNeil — would become deputy chief at the Halifax Regional Police Department. Says the department’s press release:
Deputy McNeil began his career with the Halifax Police Department in 1989. During his career, Deputy McNeil has acquired a broad base of experience in both operations and administration, working in Patrol, Criminal Investigation, Casino Intelligence, Drugs, Fraud, and Community Relations/Crime Prevention. He was promoted to the rank of Superintendent in 2009 and has served in a variety of areas including Community Projects, Administration, Support and Integrated Emergency Services and as Central Divisional Commander. Deputy McNeil most recently served as Officer-in-Charge of the Patrol Division, a position to which he was appointed in April 2015.
Now, McNeil or some variation of it is a common name in Nova Scotia. (My friend Iain MacNeil told me that he and a guy named Ian McNeil once got into fisticuffs over the spelling of their names.) So while the premier has a brother named Robin McNeil, I can’t be 100 per cent sure that the Robin McNeil appointed deputy chief is one and the same.
However, one of the premier’s other brothers, Chris McNeil, had previously served as deputy chief. There are 17 McNeil siblings — 11 brothers (one deceased) and six sisters. And this Robin McNeil sure looks like he’s of the Bridgetown McNeil clan. Consider:
Now, I’m from a big Catholic family. Not as big as McNeil’s, but big enough — I’m one of eight kids. I wouldn’t want to be judged by my siblings’ actions, and more importantly, I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be judged by my actions. We’re independent people and we’re responsible for ourselves.
But there’s something creepy about the extent to which the McNeil family has permeated the Halifax PD. There’s yet another McNeil brother who was part of the force: Anthony McNeil. Anthony and Chris were involved in a scandal that rocked the force in 2011, and which ultimately led to Chris’ resignation as deputy chief. I detailed that scandal here; the short of it is that it appears Chris was trying to cover up improper activity by his younger brother and was accused of lying to the police review board.
As we do in Nova Scotia, Chris was allowed to retire, the scandal was swept under the rug, and Chris went on to establish a consulting firm that sells its services to various police agencies around the province. He’s probably making more money now than he was as deputy chief.
And now Robin McNeil is deputy chief.
Update: several readers have confirmed that Robin McNeil is Stephen McNeil’s brother.
1. Joanne Bernard
“I am still getting used to the idea that Joanne Bernard is now the former Minister of Community Services, soundly beaten in Dartmouth North by NDP candidate Susan Leblanc,” writes Robert Devet:
I am not shedding any tears for Bernard. Lives on welfare are hard lives, and Joanne Bernard the minister did next to nothing to change things for the better.
What is exciting about Bernard’s loss is that to some extent she lost because of her record as the minister of Community Services. There were other reasons as well, but the hard work of anti-poverty advocates, their rallies and campaigns, were a major factor. Not just during the election, but over the years. We haven’t seen that in Nova Scotia for a while.
About the Icarus Report
I get complaints about everything I write. Everything. People complain about the ships. I’ve had someone tell me I shouldn’t write about animals. Someone else told me that publishing cranky letters is a waste of my time. I’ve fielded complaints about each and every one of the writers I publish — not about their work, just that the complainer doesn’t like the writer for some reason. People complain about the layout of the webpage. They complain about photos, the colour of the text, the terms and conditions page. A Twitter troll criticizes my pronunciation of “kilometre.” Someone else criticizes my spelling of “kilometre.” There is literally not a single damn thing I do that isn’t criticized. Someone will inevitably criticize this very paragraph.
Mostly I just shrug off criticism. I started this enterprise to be able to do what I enjoy doing, and if people don’t like it, well, fuck ’em.
But the criticism of the Icarus Report is at an all-time high. Over-the-top high. People really, really hate it. It seems a visceral hatred.
I don’t much like talking about my personal life, but I guess I have to get into this. I have issues with height. I can’t walk over the Macdonald Bridge, or most other bridges either. I get the willies walking over the Quinpool Road bridge over the railroad tracks, for example. Overlooks and ledges are off limits. I even get vertigo watching a road runner and coyote cartoon, when the coyote falls off the cliff.
I don’t always have nightmares, but when I do, they’re about falling. Half the time, I’m falling to my death. The other half the time, someone I care about is falling to their death. If you’re my friend, I’ve probably seen you fall to your death in my mind’s eye. Sorry.
I don’t know what explains this fear of heights, and it only seems to get worse. I am completely convinced that falling to my death is my ultimate fate. This doesn’t stop me from flying, but as the plane is taking off, I try to think of something I’ve accomplished or someone I love, and cherish that thought, because it might be my last.
And so the Icarus Report is a way to work through this fear, or at least to self-mockingly play with it. I try to make it amusing, in a self-deprecating sort of way. I’ve never pretended it was “real journalism” or any such thing — does everything I write have to be serious? Can I not play around a bit?
But complaints about my fear of flying go something like this:
Me: I have an irrational fear of flying.
Smart/sane person: Your irrational fear of flying is irrational.
Me: Yes, I know. I have an irrational fear of flying.
Smart/sane person: But that’s irrational!
Me: Indeed, I have an irrational fear of flying.
Smart/sane person: You sure are an asshole.
Well, I yam what I yam, as some famous person once said.
But, given the unusually vitriolic hatred for the Icarus Report, I thought that just this once, I’d throw it open to readers. It only takes me about five minutes to put together the Icarus Report — I usually do it while watching TV or having a beer, so it’s not like it’s taking away from my other work. But should I stop with it? Continue? You tell me:
Should I continue to produce the Icarus Report?
— Tim Bousquet (@Tim_Bousquet) June 1, 2017
No public meetings.
The Dalhousie University Club’s AGM (Thursday, 4pm, Dining Room, Dal University Club) — drink with the bartenders.
In the harbour
7am: Maasdam, cruise ship with up to 1,510 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Sydney
7am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 36 to Autoport
7:20am: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
11:30am: Manon, car carrier, moves from Pier 31 to Autoport
11:30am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport to Pier 41
Noon: Skogafoss, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
3:30pm: Maasdam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Bar Harbor
8:30pm: Manon, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
We’re recording Examineradio today.
Please keep Icarus! It’s light-hearted, serious shit. Thanks for the Examiner, Tim! ????????
I like the Icarus Report (plus I am big fan of the TV show May Day). I like how the incidents, minor and less minor, reveal details about the way aviation works, the dance of technology and humanity which mark the daily challenge behind something we all take for granted. It is also a wonderful continuation of a great Canadian journalistic tradition. Bob Edwards was the outspoken and adversarial publisher of the Calgary Eye Opener in the years before WW I. He despised the oligarchic power of the Canadian Pacific Railway and made a practice of putting every CPR crash and derailment on the front page of his weekly in gory and glorious detail. Even worse when the CPR had an incident-free week, he’d run a headline, “No CPR train wrecks this week..”
Icarus file? Yes, please.
You said it: Fuck ’em.
I suppose you won’t be coming to visit us as we live high up in a tall building. Every time I go out on the balcony, I gasp and step back. “Ooh. . . that’s high,” I say. But don’t look down. The view all around is amazing.
Having said that, I voted, “I don’t care” on the Icarus report. Not to be rude or dismissive. I just don’t care.
Carry on. You’re doing a fine job.
It seems to me the issue is not the altitude, it’s the vanishing points to which all those vertical lines converge.
I have filmed skydivers from the open door of an aircraft, and the feeling I had was not the “Hell – that’s a long way down!” I get from looking down from tall buildings so much as how beautiful the world looked from up here.
Please keep the Icarus file Tim. I’m an aviation nut.
“…the solution for many people is to shame people who don’t vote, and to suggest horrible solutions like internet elections or compulsory voting.”
First let me dispense with internet voting.
A paper ballot is slow, cumbersome and really expensive. I would love the speed and convenience of internet voting, but compared to a traditional paper ballot it’s dangerously insecure. I’m not just talking Russian hackers, I’m talking about an activist dad persuading an indifferent mum and kids to give him their PINs so he can violate the elections act by voting four times. The integrity of the vote must be beyond doubt. The identity of each voter must be ascertained. Disputes afterward (including recounts) must be able to be resolved. Paper ballots are transparent (I scrutineered in one the other night) and achieve these things, internet ballots don’t AFAIK.
That said Tim, I support compulsory voting. I also support ranked ballots, and totally public financing of all elections and referenda, and a “none of the above” vote, in principal, at least. The first two of these can be found in Australia, where I grew up. Every opinion poll taken there since 1943 has found that three in every four Australians support compulsory voting. This has always crossed party lines.
Actually mate, I do believe Australia is governed better than we are in some ways. For one thing, their Senators are elected by the public just like their MPs, not appointed by a docile Governor General on the “advice” of a Prime Minister putting party interests before those of the nation (Trudeau is a benign, likely temporary aberration).
For another, under-performing or disreputable Australian party leaders (including Prime Ministers) can be replaced by their own caucus in mid-term. Try doing that here. I could offer you some excellent candidates.
Also, whatever mess the Commonwealth or State governments make of their jurisdictions is the direct result of an election where on a bad day around 90% of voters manage to show up at polling stations. Exactly what they wrote on their ballot was of course secret – but they at least they were allowed to number their choices in order of their preference instead of being limited to a humble [X] like poor Canadians.
So now electoral democracy in NS is down to 53%. How low does it have to go here before we just call the whole game off and put the damn government up for tender?
Yes Tim, there are reasons why people don’t vote, and certainly two neo-liberal Stephens each looked after the best interest of their ruling parties by effectively depressing voter turnout.
I’ve knocked on doors for years during elections, and quite a few folks have told me they never vote. A few more did last weekend.
I’ve never yet heard someone tell me they don’t vote because they resent capitalism, imperialism or because they were Mi’kmaq, but I have frequently heard “I can’t be bothered”, “All politicians are equally crooks, fools and liars”, as well as that eternal favourite “Nothing ever changes so what’s the point?”– as though the act of not voting inoculates them. If they choose to be passengers in a bus driven by others, they can hardly complain about the itinerary. I suppose there must be principled non-voters out there somewhere, but in my personal experience apathy rules, whether or not Tim you consider that “victim blaming”.
Not voting only encourages political parties to exploit us further.
They know people are disengaged, cynical and easily confused. The less people vote, the more impact committed party supporters have over the result. Folks continue to buy into “stars and the moon” promises, feel let down by the ugly reality, (rinse, repeat). The more who just give up, the more they are playing right into the hands of establishment political parties. This sad state of 53% is entirely the result of those self-serving political parties then?
Well, not exactly. The only way to keep parties honest is to make them fear us ®. They will if they believe we would threaten their ideological objectives, jobs and fat pensions. They have no fear of confused, cynical people who bail on electoral democracy, no matter how principled that makes them feel.
We get the government we deserve. No wonder we’re pissed!
You can’t seriously hold the parties totally responsible when we make it so easy for them to exploit us. The way to get them to fear us is for them to believe we are not all morons, we are watching them closely (assisted by honest, responsible journalists like you Tim) and we have very long memories.
So yes, I advocate a compulsory vote. At least show up, get ruled off the rolls and poke your ballot in the slot. Many lazy Australians have been forced to find a few minutes to think through their options and actually picked one just because they knew that they had to. No, it’s not ideal, but this forces people to confront the unsavory options before them.
Compulsory voting may offer other benefits in NS as well.
Right now there is a huge block of voters who frequently fails to vote – young people. They see nothing in any party’s platform of specific interest to them, so they can’t be bothered. As a result the parties don’t usually include policies to attract them, because they know they don’t vote. This feeds on itself.
If everyone had to vote, parties simply could not ignore such a large bloc. They would have to devise policies on tuition reduction, first home buyer assistance, child care programs etc. that would appeal to young people. Trudeau mobilized them with Marijuana.
Suppose you coupled a compulsory vote with non-voting ballot options at the bottom.
One might be a conscientious objector option where you could write that you were not voting because you were Mi’kmaq’. (Incidentally a Mi’kmaq candidate ran in Waverley-Fall River Beaverbank this election and would have been the very first indigenous Nova Scotian to sit in Province House had he won).
Another non voting option might simply be None of the Above” (NOTA).
That one sounds simple enough until you consider the consequences if it won.
Who represents the riding now? It would be unfair if it was the incumbent, since they could then win either by persuading people to vote for them or by massively pissing them off so they vote NOTA.
Does Elections NS appoint a manager pending a new election?
Are the names of everyone on the next ballot excluded from this rejected one? When can they run again?
Party riding associations would be broke and exhausted after the recent election – how are they going to mount another one quickly? Many desperately needed volunteers would just walk away. I have wished I had a NOTA option in many elections, but it does come with serious issues that must be ironed out first.
The only solution to fixing our electoral democracy is for people to do their basic citizen duty and vote. Yes, I appreciate many people feel their options stink, but if there is any hope of change it’s in their hands.
It’s compulsory to drive on the right side of the road in this country. That’s in everyone’s best interest, right? Likewise voting should be compulsory. It’s in everyone’s interest to have a stake in all our prosperity and well being. Making a mark on a piece of paper every 4 or so years is hardly an impost. Other Canadians have laid down their lives to protect this wonderful country and its democracy. Voting is the very least we should all be required to do.
Thank you, ausca, for articulating everything and more that I’ve been thinking about for a while now, I couldn’t agree more. I’m stealing “make them fear us” because, dammit, they should. Hope you don’t mind.
Thank you all for your thoughts, you’ve given me much to think about.
That said, I do believe that it is the duty of every citizen to participate in “the hard work of self-government.” I also believe that it is the duty of government to make voting as easy and simple as possible. If they do it only because they fear us, I’m good with that too.
Wow ausca that’s a well-rounded explanation of why people should try much harder to cast a vote. I don’t believe citizens should be forced to, but the opportunity to effect leadership by casting a vote represents freedom other societies are denied and for which people laid down their lives to defend. I look forward to the day we can elect Senators ????
I think you’re generally correct on this (as is El Jones in today’s Metro). This kind of weird anger yesterday looks a lot like the ongoing rage some centrist Democrats in the US have aimed at people who didn’t vote for Clinton that they blame for electing Trump. Many politicians and party partisans think that they are owed your vote – it’s reflected in the degree to which many parties run campaigns aimed at not losing the votes of their base rather than winning any new votes.
I would add some other half-baked observations:
1) The parallel trend with union density numbers is true but it isn’t just about the atomizing effect of late capitalism/post-fordism/neo-liberalism/whatever we want to call it on people’s attitudes. It’s also about the very real way that social organization has changed. In many places we lack not just unions, but the other formal structures which were integral to party machines turning out the vote. We always joke about the rum/cash for votes thing, or paving jobs, etc. Churches, trade unions, ethnic societies, etc. being able to turn out the vote not only pushed up voter turnout numbers but forced some sort of responsiveness to community needs from parties (often in the form of graft and corruption which is bad but paving jobs aimed at your voters aren’t obviously worse to my mind than communications contracts to your campaign chair’s company or tax breaks to major donors or whatever). Even in sectors where union density is high unions are disconnected from the everyday lives of most of their members – the age of union hockey teams, union picnics or union halls as the centre of someone’s social life are long gone. (The privatization of leisure time is of course a long process throughout the 20th century, but it accelerates under post-fordism) If a union shows up in your life only every 3 years when it is time to bargain or once every 4 years when it is time to vote then you’re going to struggle to find a reason to vote for them – this process of distancing organized labour from the every day lives and struggles of union members has been in large part intentional on the part of capital and the state, but most unions have gone along with for a whole pile of reasons.
Terry Golway makes a pretty interesting argument in his book about the Tammany Hall machine in 19th century NYC that despite the fact that it used obvious and overt graft and corruption to maintain political control it also helped transform immigrants into citizens and the informal access to power granted by participating in machine politics was really all that a lot of ethnic (particularly Catholic) whites could do to improve community conditions or participate in political life. (of course this kind of participation was offered only to certain groups and actively worked against African Americans, Asians, etc. from gaining access to economic or political rights)
Some parties recognize the kind of power of such groups – it’s one reason why the federal parties in particularly are so aggressively courting immigrant and ethnic communities where those kinds of informal social structures still exist. (More locally, despite all of his numbskullery, Matt Whitman has been smart enough to actively court the evangelical Church voters in his district as well)
2) A big part of the problem is that despite misguided screeds from pundits claiming that there is any sort of increasing polarization of political parties there has actually been a remarkable consensus among politicians and operatives from almost all the parties in the US and Canada around economic (and to some extent social) issues. All three Canadian parties basically have embraced a kind of technocratic liberalism as a mode of governance – economic problems are seen as technical problems to be solved, not political problems that are about competing and opposed interests and which do not have one “correct” answer. Low taxes, lack of direct government intervention in labour markets, lax industrial regulation, etc. are all assumed by all 3 of Canada’s major parties and the debate is just how low, just how little, and just how lax. blah blah blah the end of history blah blah blah
As a result voters aren’t being asked to decide whose interest a party will serve but who will be the most competent (or friendliest) managers of a system that is distant from them and their every day interactions with the state.
This isn’t some hidden thing either. Ask most people who don’t vote why they don’t vote and the answer is often some variation on “Why bother, they’re all the same.” Obviously the exact details make huge differences in the lives of many people (increasing social assistance rates by an extra $100 a month seems small for example but is a massive improvement in the lives of people who rely on it), but the band of acceptable ideas is so narrow that it’s often hard to convince yourself that it matters.
3) There are real barriers to voting for a lot of people. Work fucking sucks and most bosses don’t give people time off to vote (or you work on the other side of town from where you live so it doesn’t matter if you get an extended lunch break). Voting in a rural community is hard. People have mobility issues. It takes time to figure out what the hell the difference is between platforms and the media is often pretty bad at explaining those small differences.
I’m impressed you’ve cracked the code and have your readers read the entire Morning File. It’s as if they forgot they can skip sections… just like the sports section in a newspaper. If you don’t like it, skip it.
Other than adding some needed colour to the events, they are all based on real fact, so I don’t understand why people would think you’re swaying perceptions.
Re: low voter turnout – I, too, see a connection with the ascendancy of neo-liberal policies. “Balanced budgets” is not a vision for the future. If that is the only societal goal a political party has, then it will sacrifice any other societal good to accomplish it (flourishing film industry, food budget at seniors’ homes, positive relationships with employees, etc.). Even saying that a balanced budget allows for “investments” doesn’t cast a vision, as proven by the Liberals’ scattershot spending announcements of $1 billion (plus) just before the election. Without a clear vision for the kind of Nova Scotia we can build together, there is no inspiration for uninvolved people to invest their time, talent and energy in politics and elections. I am a lifetime voter, but it is discouraging to see how shallow our political discussion has become.
I am constantly fascinated by how much criticism you get of what you do here. Is it done by people who actually pay for a subscription? Maybe then it’s something to consider. If they don’t pay, I’d invite them to observe the mistletoe hanging from the seat of my pants, and govern themselves accordingly (as my father used to say when he didn’t want to say ‘kiss my arse’ in front of his innocent little children.
I’m a happy subscriber, as I’ve said before. I often disagree with things you or others write, but I’m fine with that–it also causes me to think about WHY I disagree. If I’m not interested in an article, or don’t care for a writer, I just don’t read that article. Easy peasy. But we seem to have become a nation of bitchers about things that don’t really matter, (like whether or not someone likes the Icarus report, or that young woman in NB who is getting harassed for driving a former hearse as her vehicle of choice.) People need to get out more, maybe.
Ultimately–you keep doing what you do, Tim, and I’ll keep making my (not very much and wish it could be more) monthly payments. And for the record, I totally get your fear of heights.
I too, have an irrational fear of heights that includes looking away from the screen when some is on a ledge … but strangely I don’t mind flying at all. And I really like the Icarus Report.
And keep the Icarus Report. I read it and have no fear of flying. You play the odds. I enjoy it. If others don’t like it, they can skip that part.
Perhaps it is time to do away with provincial political parties? Have everyone run as an independent candidate including those wishing to be elected as Premier. Then the candidates would have to put forward their own platform stating how they would represent the residents of their designated Riding and the Province as a whole. Could the result be any worse than what we have now? Yes I realize that some form of legal change would be required to effect such a radical change in provincial governance; but what I find interesting would be be that the candidates would be required to put forward their own platform rather than one that is largely cut and pasted from a Party-crafted platform. Just tossing it out as a radical governance option for discussion.
Like in Nunavut. I wonder how well it works there?
Northwest Territories is the second region to have an active consensus government.
Here is an interesting review of this model of governance:
One of the issues people have is the lack of respect for the representative democracy system we have in Canada. It was mentioned in the story as a capitalist system. While I agree it could be, and most likely is, it also makes the voter realize their representative really is just a party member who will tow the line of the party, not necessarily the local area who voted them in. Although mob mentality is not a good option having independents held directly accountable is.
I had a conversation with a former cabinet minister about having a law that would allow people who were voted in as independents to be given a ministerial position.This would allow the independent to be given a chance to prove their worth to the province as well as the voters who elected him/her. My thought was this would be a way of engaging more potential voters, as the outcome of the vote could affect their community and province more directly. It would also give people a real option of having some sort of representation other than the 3 major parties. In some European countries, it has happened that there has been a coalition of independents that work for both the good of the country as well as the people who elected them As it is now in Nova Scotia independents almost never get elected because people realize they will have no power (like backbenchers of the opposition party) and in Nova Scotia no history of a coalition of independents (maybe never having enough to make a coalition).
The problems though are many and varied. First of all the party in power would not want to relinquish any power to a non-party member. Second, of all, we have what is a constitutional convention which is not a law but a way things are done. An example would be that Stephen McNeil could appoint TIM BOUSQUET as the minister of finance if he wanted to :). So it is possible right now to appoint an independent as a minister, just not a requirement. There are many other issues but they are 2 major ones.
The system is set up so to appease the people in power and to try and change that will require a major uprising from the general population. What most likely will happen is more people will lose interest and a number of voters will continue to diminish.
AND SO SAY WE ALL
I share your views on low voter turnout. I believe another element of it is instinctual and unconscious, much like the way animals in the wild come to know to avoid “kill zones.” They just sense what is not good for them and stay away.
Here is another analogy: my grand daughter has an allergy to peanuts that almost killed her more than once when she was very little. So as she grew she became highly sensitized to the threat. So much so that she once left a checkout line because a large display of peanuts in bags some yards away set off her peanut Spidey senses and she left the line to spare herself discomfort or worse.
I think the great mass of those who don’t vote have developed the same sense about politics. They just know It is not something that ever helps them and may even harm them.
Ideas about low voter turnout like yours and mine do not sit well with all the high-minded nabobs who would school us on what we owe our democracy. They are fond of reminding us we have a “duty” to vote. But, it seems to me there is a larger duty—namely, the duty of those who would lead us to offer us something worth voting for.
Or, to rework your restaurant analogy: if we don’t see anything we want on the menu, why should we frequent your restaurant.
Countries that do have compulsory voting, like Australia, or that other liberal panacea, proportional representation as in Italy, are not any better governed than we are.
Forcing people to vote for a shit sandwich still leaves you with a shit sandwich.
Voter turnout at the polls started to decline just about the time politicians stopped handing out bottles of rum.
Further to my above comment: this disparaging of shared community I think is the reason people get so upset when nurses, or school teachers, or the film community want a fair shake and the govt says “phew!” and others say “yeh ,screw them! doesn’t affect me! they don’t deserve it!” Of course it does! It’s preposterous to think otherwise. The well being of everyone in the community, makes the community better.
Decades of post-Thatcher / Reagan neo-liberalism and materialism has taken its toll on how people think of themselves collectively. We’re all being pushed toward a dog-eat-dog style of individualism. We’re all so busy thinking of ourselves we rarely think of each other.
Very clever, Tim. See what you just did there? Got us to VOTE!
Yes to the Icarus Report. (Not on twitter, dont want to join it to vote in the poll)
“The other McNeils” ?.
This province is just fucking horrible.
My thoughts on low voter turnout is that parties (all of them) basically say whatever they want to while in opposition and while campaigning, and then all too frequently turn around and do the opposite when they attain power. Very recent examples include Justin Trudeau abandoning ship on electoral reform after making it a major part of his platform and the NDP in Nova Scotia campaigning on not raising taxes, and promptly jacking up the HST by 2 percentage points. The PCs/Conservatives have lots of broken promises as well. To me this is what drives a lot of voter apathy. If I am voting for a party based on a major promise and the party then turns around and breaks that promise, I feel deceived and lied to. If it happens often enough (and it does) then eventually Charlie Brown gets tired of trying to kick the football.
I love the Icarus report and the shipping info and Lecture announcements are also great:)
Everyone, especially the political class, mouth platitudes of the sacredness of our democracy yet indicate their contempt for it every day. They count on apathy and disinterest for their own ends re Stephen MacNeil.
How about we ALL boycott and not vote in the next election and see what happens. Will our political class see it as a crisis or an opportunity.
We, the electorate, as a collective, need to send a stronger message (apparently 53% voter turnout isn’t strong enough).
Also what is up with the stories left to after the election? Yesterday was the report about the Bayer’s Lake outpatient facility, today the Michelle Coffin story?
A misguided effort to avoid influencing the election? Would have been nice to see these before the vote.
The Canadian Press didn’t receive the Bayers Lake documents until yesterday.
I can’t speak for The Coast, but I’m guessing they were spooked by threat of a lawsuit, like when a certain psychiatrist took legal action when the paper published an article I wrote about him before an election. There’s an obscure NS libel law that says you can’t publish some things less than five days before an election, airc.
I’m not on Twitter so it won’t let me vote, but YES continue the Icarus report. Makes queasy but interesting reading…
I’ll say Yes but maybe less frequently because that is what makes it tiresome. The stories of action and adventure are pretty interesting, within limits.
I don’t like Keith’s but I don’t tell the brewery not to make it. I just don’t drink it.
It’s Ontario swill anyway.
Great job btw! love the Examiner!
1. “increasing emphasis on individual behaviour and the shift in value systems to one that only values individual consumption, at the expense of communal wealth, that leads to lower voter turnout. Put simply: we have so disparaged the notion of a shared community, with shared obligations to each other, that individual people increasingly see no purpose in voting. ”
I 100% agree. This is something I’ve thought about in respects to other behaviour in society and it makes sense in this case too. So what do we do about it is the real Q though?
2. Yes, Robin is our premier’s brother, and Chris and Anthony’s. I went to high school with the family and am from Bridgetown.
keep up the good work!