Tuesday, May 03, 2011

How Politics Works

election poster

Last night Canadians elected a majority Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

I spent most of the day leading up to that vote working for a Conservative candidate, including several hours as a scrutineer at one of the local polling stations.

After the count and the parties were over, I came home and switched on Twitter and Facebook to catch up on what I'd missed from my friends and associates. And what I found online was far, far removed from what I'd experienced all day.

There were people ranting about the results, threatening to leave the country before they were carted off to re-education camps. Others predicted the end of universal health care and an open season on abortion clinics. Others bemoaned the low 60% voter turnout, the alienation of Youth and the ignorance of various and sundry for choosing the MPs they chose.

For the most part, they aped the political panels and pundits and pollsters who have dominated our media for the last five weeks, preaching doom, building partisan niches and otherwise clawing through the entrails of what Canadians must feel in their guts.

In the end, it turned out most of those opinions were more than a little off the mark. But that didn't matter, the need to demonize and/or have a tantrum because you didn't get your way took precedence.

Among the most prominent in the Twitterverse was filmmaker and activist Michael Moore, a guy I greatly admire no matter how much we may disagree from time to time.


It was all I could do not to go all George C. Scott in the opening desert battle scenes of "Patton" on Mr. Moore's prestigious behind and scream, "You sonovabitch, I read your book!".

Because in the opening chapters of "Stupid White Men", Michael Moore tells you everything you need to know about running and winning a political campaign.

And if you want my opinion, that's all that happened yesterday.

You win elections by listening to people, by responding to what are legitimate needs and by proving that you'll do what you said you would do.

Many may not like what the minority Conservative government did over the last few years. But there was no hidden agenda. They were clear about what they stood for and they did exactly what they said they were going to do.

In 2008, I worked for my local candidate in Newmarket-Aurora, Lois Brown. Lois is one of the nicest people you could meet. Smart, funny and hard working. But even her own party didn't think she had much of a chance.

Yet she won by 6,000 votes. And after two years of continuing to work hard, she increased her vote last night to win by 18,000 votes. That doesn't happen unless people come to realize the person they're interacting with is not what the chattering classes would prefer they believe.

For all the social media whining about voter turnout, the polling station where I worked yesterday registered 300 new voters. And that's 10 polls in a riding with more than 250. Many of those choosing to exercise their franchise for the first time were young, encouraged to become engaged by Rick Mercer, social media and vote mobs.

A lot of them eyed me cautiously, wondering what a guy wearing a Conservative badge was doing hanging around as they signed up. They clearly weren't going to vote for my guy. I was the enemy.

In fact, late in the day, as I stood in the parking lot making some calls, a group of them came out of the poll and walked past.

"Hey guys," I said, "Thanks for voting."

"Don't look so happy!" One of them said, "None of us voted for you fucks!"

I shrugged. "Why would I have a problem with you voting for what's in your own best interest." I replied, "I'm not a socialist."

One of his buddies chuckled and glanced back at me thoughtfully as they left.

Next time out, I'm thinking he might actually give his vote a little more thought.

The candidate I was working for lost last night. To be frank, he deserved to lose. Working for him wasn't my idea. Somebody else thought he could use my help and sometimes Life renders you without choice. You get assigned to the Russian Front or to write an episode of "Little Mosque on the Prairie". All you can do is suck it up and do your best.

But he lost because like so many he was less concerned with the people he was being elected to serve than by the process of making the right impression and following the media scenario. The young don't vote. Everybody knows my opponent is a joke. Old ladies in retirement homes have been carrying me for years.  They won't change now.

He was wrong.

You win elections by engaging people and you keep the job by proving yourself to them. Meanwhile, the chattering classes are mostly concerned with chatter.

I don't take a lot of the venom spewed against Stephen Harper and those who chose not to vote seriously. Most in my Twitter feed come from the Toronto Arts Community where few will stand up for their own industry let alone actually get out and engage potential voters or advocate in favor of mandatory voting or to abolish the "first past the post" system.

No matter what I say or do, their chattering will continue -- until they too finally decide to put their own skin in the game.

But if any of them have read this far, and before they get back to tweeting and updating their facebook status, I hope they take a moment to listen to what their Prime Minister actually said last night -- understanding that he doesn't really have to care what they think of him for the next few years. He doesn't need to hope he can make them like him anymore. He's done with currying favor.

But unlike them, he hasn't given up on trying…


Hannah said...

I live in a place that is falling apart, both politically and economically. Seriously Canada, stop bitching! And no looking at the Southern neighbours for inspiration... that would be a bad move. :-)

Mark Mayerson said...

I have a serious question. Do you think that Steven Harper will do anything to further your agenda with regard to the CRTC and the Canadian Media Fund? Do you think that the people working in film and television will do any better under a Harper majority?

I'm not looking to provoke you. I am genuinely curious as to your thoughts on this.

Peter said...

Wow, what a terrific post. Harper Derangement Syndrome is killing progressive thinking. It's also camouflaging their descent into the politics of mere resentment and reaction.

jimhenshaw said...


No worries. I'm virtually unprovokable any more.

And yes, I do believe a Conservative majority will have a positive effect on CRTC and CMF issues.

The Conservatives overruled the CRTC to force more competition in the telecom sector and made them go back to the drawing board on Usage Based Billing.

I think that desire to foster competition and support research and development will now lead to major changes in the broadcast sector.

As for the CMF, the last budget codified continued support for those forms of financing which adds stability to the industry.

But I think what will follow (for both them and the CBC) is more accountability for how that money is spent.

DMc said...

Sure Jim. Sure.


Wonder where I'll be living in 2015?

jimhenshaw said...

Thanks for the link, DMc. And I gotta say it fully illustrates the difference between those on the Left and those on the Right.

The losing Liberal candidate lists all the things that conspired against him without acknowledging how little he did to confront them during his campaign -- because he obviously felt he was 'entitled' to his Victory.

Meanwhile, do you know what the losing Conservative candidate I worked for was doing today? He was organizing his constituency office to stay open, remain staffed and continue working for the people of the riding because the candidate who won has no experience and isn't equipped to look after them the way an MP is supposed to do.

You can whine or you can engage.

Seriously, don't you find it interesting that when the Conservatives and Reform were splitting more than 50% of the vote and Chretien was winning majorities with less than 35%, nobody on the Left was finding the process inherently unfair and undemocratic?

More here: http://www.640toronto.com/HostsandShows/MikeStafford/Main.aspx

DMc said...

No Jim, I call that human nature. And the Right did complain about that same thing then. Mightily.

I don't deny you your "entitlement" claim. It is truly the worst thing about the Liberals. But the Conservative equivalent of that is the whining insistence that somehow there's always bad people allied against them. Harper's been in 5 years, run roughshod over every rule or convention and the refrain from you on down is still "the Liberals did it first," or "we have to be this way because we're put upon."

And that allows you to really effectively demonize your opponents, complain that the CBC is against you, and justify all the terrible shit you do -- because you're acting in self-defence.

The truth is, there was plenty of ugly thinking to go around in this campaign. It has me thinking very differently about Canada and Canadians. I wonder if the stuff I loved about this country is still there, or if it even was real to begin with.

I felt this kind of disillusionment about the USA after the Iraq invasion too. But luckily traveling and working in the US exposed me to enough pockets that made me think, "well it's worth adding your voice to the fighting side."

But I don't like your friends, Jim. And I don't really like the people who are supposed to be "my" side, either.

And how do you think an immigrant to this great land, and someone who likes to think he's maybe a little smart, feels about the fact that the character assassination about somebody came down to "he's traveled abroad and spent some time out of the country" and "oh, he's smart." And it worked.

I don't know man. I'm starting to think that what race is to America, parochialism is to Canada.

And I'm just thinking I don't fit here anymore.

I feel disengaged with politics now in Canada not because "my side" lost -- but because the system seems irrelevant, and I can't imagine actually being in a position to care by the next election.

It's sad, but there you go.

Deb said...

Whatever the politics, the current financing model is unsustainable. As costs rise, the money available remains at the same level and gaps in financing grow larger.

A radical new approach needs to be taken, before the "death by a thousand cuts" becomes fatal.

John McFetridge said...

I wonder if the stuff I loved about this country is still there, or if it even was real to begin with.

It likely was never as big a part of the country as you thought it was.

It was interesting that a US publication used a line from an Alice Munro story to illustrate why rural Ontario would never like Iggy. Meanwhile a Canadian paper had Margaret Atwood explain the election to us in a patronizing way.

Yes, parochialism is a big part of Canada. unlike the Us issue of race or the British issue of class we just don't talk about it much.

The title of Alice Munro's book, Who Do You Think You Are? was changed to The Beggar Maid: Stories of Rose and Flo in the US because the Canadian title was meaningless there. And yet here it so perfectly describes one of the most dearly held attitudes of so much of our population.

jimhenshaw said...

I think you're right on the money about parochialism, DMc and completely agree with John's response.

I've been from one end of this country to the other about 8 times in the last two years, much of it by car and there's an insular, isolated feel to many, many places.

I think it's our version of Race and Class, so those who've never visited or don't understand the ways of Toronto or Alberta or Newfoundland can still feel smugly superior to them and/or continue to embrace the oddities of their own locale.

For all of our national broadcasters, time-shifting cable options and massive digital connectivity, we don't really seem to communicate with one another that well.

There are guys like me who sometimes feel that's by design to prevent a creative critical mass or prevent the encroachment on somebody's production hegemony. And it's doubtless something politicians of all stripes have used to their advantage.

Beyond really getting to know one another, I don't know the solution.

Maybe it all starts by not allowing Margaret Atwood or Ezra Levant to presume to speak for any of us anymore.

Maybe it's something else.

goat-on-a-stik said...

great post, you're an entertaining read

DMc said...

But see, that truly is the failure of the system then. If we don't have a broadcasting system that's made us understand each other better, then what's the point? And the parochial pushback is amazing too.

It's not just that "Toronto doesn't understand Vancouver or Newfoundland."

I've lived in Newfoundland, and I've lived in Vancouver while working on shows, and the insularity there is crippling too. Everyone resents what "the other" thinks of them, but there's also no attempt to separate fact from fiction about "the other."

Which makes the country very easy to divide and conquer, I suppose.

I remember very fondly 20 years ago having a job that allowed me to listen to one of the final years of Gzowski's MORNINGSIDE -- and I really felt in that time, I was starting to see how different parts of Canada really were different.

But there's nothing knitting it together. There is no common "us." And maybe that's why you can't tell stories. Nobody wants to hear it if it's not about them, and they're bitter you'll get them wrong, and suspicious if you're not them, and ...

Augh. It feels too heavy to type. Oh Canada. I feel more done with each breath.

John McFetridge said...

It's interesting you mention speaking for us Jim, Robert Fulford wrote a column saying that Margaret Atwood speaks for people in the Annex who think exactly like she does. Maybe that's a bad thing for newspaper editorials, but creative writing is all about voice and Atwood has a distinctive and popular voice (I prefer Alice Munro and I think in this case there really is a silent majority, but who knows).

Anyway, the TV business in this country seems to get that there are distinctive regions with their own voices but not that they mix very much. The Canada I usually see on TV seems a lot more isolated than the Canada I read about.

Elize Morgan said...

Let's preface this with the fact that I have this debate every election with my family, I'm staunchly on the left, and wouldn't vote conservative because the platform in Canada includes too many so-called "moral" issues that I don't agree with.

That stated.

I think that, to be fair, there's points the right makes that are valid - welfare reform, rather than funneling more money into it, developing a form of change that is required, sure. But tax cuts - in the way that Harper proposes them - don't generate the needed help (for housing or infrasture) that are needed, and while Conservatives in power tend to help in the short term (i.e. bringing up currency at this time when things are economically a mess everywhere), in the long-term, however, there are major issues that need to be in place.

This is the problem the democratic system - with partisan politics and four-year terms - faces. If you want to stay in, you can't effect the change that, perhaps is needed.

That said, please don't discount the arts community that much. Many of the folks I know actively champion electoral reform - and I think it will be interesting to see if the UK system changes after their referendum.

Alex Epstein said...

As a producer, are you at all concerned that the Conservatives will dismantle the Cancon and subsidy structure that keeps the film and tv community in existence?

jimhenshaw said...

As I said partway through these comments, Alex, I'm hoping the system gets tuned enough that it can go from being some kind of over-protected endangered species to a creature that flourishes in freedom.