Here is a bit of a reflection on last week’s byelection.
Brandon-Souris voters turned out in greater numbers than the other three byelections. But it was still disappointing. About 45 per cent of us voted, higher than the 26 per cent, 34 per cent and 38 per cent elsewhere. But can’t we do better as a democracy?
Larry Maguire and Rolf Dinsdale each received about 12,000 votes. Maguire won by 400. The other three candidates (Cory Szczepanski, David Neufeld, Frank Godon) together got 4,000.
But another 34,000 voters did not bother to cast a ballot!
We must find better ways to engage the population in this fundamental part of citizenship. Let’s look at everything: like making voting compulsory, providing incentives, voting on the Internet, or having proportional representation.
I was surprised at how much Justin Trudeau became a focus in this campaign. I believe he will be a central issue in the next general election.
Trudeau is a supremely cool, charismatic leader. He is driving the Conservatives and NDP to distraction, and they are coming across as angry and bitter. Like they did in this byelection.
As I noted in my last column, I was delighted to see marijuana as a major issue. I hope this foreshadows the general election. Almost every Conservative flyer — including the letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper — mentioned marijuana. This is perhaps the first time in Canadian history that marijuana and the War on Drugs have had such a high profile.
Let’s keep shining the spotlight on the issue. The Harper government has ramped up the War on Drugs, including greatly increasing the arrests for simple possession of pot. Since Harper came to power, there have been more than 400,000 marijuana-related arrests in Canada.
The defenders of the War on Drugs are quite quiet about facts and real discussion. Instead they are relying on fear and making the whole issue taboo. For example, it was supposedly scandalous that Trudeau answered a question about marijuana here at a school. But shouldn’t we be talking to kids about drugs?
Those of us proposing an end to the War on Drugs must continue to point out the benefits of legalization, regulation and education. We must keep this conversation going.
I attended the all-candidates debate at the Keystone Centre. I was impressed with the presentations of the candidates, the enthusiasm of the audience and the efficient progress of the evening.
Although attention was mainly on front-runners Maguire and Dinsdale, I was happy to see the three other candidates as well.
I appreciated Godon’s Libertarian perspective. With some issues, like marijuana, we should be downsizing government and expanding individual freedom.
The NDP’s Szczepanski did a very good job of making his case.
And the Green’s Neufeld was like a statesman and conscience of the group. We can’t have Neufeld as our MP; can we instead have him as our sage?
Unfortunately, there was much small-mindedness in the campaign. Flyers and ads often did not say very much about important issues.
Maguire emphasized he was a lifelong resident of Brandon-Souris, in contrast to newcomer Dinsdale. (The NDP used the same ploy against the Liberal candidate in the Toronto-Centre byelection). Maguire even had a bizarre slogan (emphasis in original), "Who will represent people LIKE US?"
Folks, to have lived in just one place all your life is not really an advantage. We are electing an MP to deal with national and global issues. Living in different places, much like education and travel, can help develop a broader perspective. (Incidentally, it can also help nurture a richer understanding of one’s own locale).
And don’t we want to encourage people to move to Brandon-Souris and feel welcome here?
On a related matter, at the Keystone Centre debate, none of the candidates spoke even one word in French. As well, there were no questions to the candidates about their proficiency in Canada’s other official language.
That French was not mentioned is partly an indictment of all the candidates, but also an indictment of us — the citizens. Are we that insular that we do not expect or appreciate a few words in French? Do we not care that our MP’s job performance — and possibility for advancement — depends partly on their language ability?
Let’s keep asking tough questions: not only of politicians, but also of ourselves.
» David McConkey is an active citizen. Contact him and read previous columns at davidmcconkey.com.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 2, 2013