And be these juggling fiends no more believed,
That palter with us in a double sense,
That keep the word of promise to our ear
And break it to our hope.
Finally, it’s over. I’m not sure how much longer any of us here in Canada could have endured election rhetoric. We’re not like our southern neighbours. Nothing in my experience could prepare me for the 2 and more year marathons now commonplace in America. In so many ways, we are so lucky here. I hope we consider that particular good fortune if we feel like complaining at length over just how interminable the finally concluded Canadian version felt.
And now that Stephen Harper is set to fade into memory, reality will begin to come home to roost. I’ve been scanning the media this morning and, as expected, the message of expectations vs. reality is already playing a prominent role. My bringing it up isn’t original in any way. It’s important to note, though, especially for the sake of those who came out in a big way (or so it seemed to me and others) for the first time, namely, young people in general but many of them first-time voters.
I served as a novice Deputy Returning Officer yesterday and, I have to say, I truly enjoyed it. Some of the highlights were the few new Canadians who were so apparently pleased to be casting a vote. Their pleasure was obvious but so too, quite often, was that of the young people who came as a result of the concerted get-out-the-vote campaign that seemed to me driven largely by the unifying disdain for the now-departing Prime Minister.
And depart he has, in a fashion quite unexpected by just about everybody. I can’t recall any credible predictions of a majority government for anyone and certainly nothing of the commanding scope given the Liberals under Justin Trudeau. If I’m one of those young people who helped to swell the turnout some 7% above what it was in the last election, I have to be impressed. I’m feeling today that the always seemingly tired notion that your vote really can make a difference has more truth to it than I ever imagined.
As a returning officer, I saw that satisfaction a lot last night. I made a point of congratulating people, especially those who seemed new to the ballot box, when they dropped their ballot through the slot. I was inspired watching it happen. Such a simple process and yet, at the same time, such a profound exercise of social consensus and civilized action. Expecting perfection of any system invites disappointment so I never fall victim to that. As I’ve probably expressed before, I always used to think that Churchill’s caution about democracy being the worst form of government ever devised by man, except for all the others, was just witty.
I’ve changed my mind on that one. Not unexpectedly, it’s just as imperfect as we are.
But it really is the best we’ve got and I happen to think Canada is, in general, one of the best practitioners of it. As the quote from Macbeth suggests, though, I fear what expectations unfulfilled might do to the new optimism and sense of empowerment that I detect in the aftermath of Trudeau’s resounding win.
Over my last few blogs, I’ve focused in different ways on my fear of Canada’s drift toward polarization of the American variety, where those who oppose you are vilified as the destroyers of worlds, or at least of the economy, democracy, etc. I’m all for reasoned objection; I just wish it could be reasoned.
Justin Trudeau, to my mind, is to be commended for avoiding, for the most part, the tactic employed with increasing ferocity as the campaign proceeded by the Conservatives and somewhat by the NDP as well. The message, essentially, was that a win by the opponent would be catastrophic in some way. While such a message might tend to play well with the hard-core supporters, the average person, to my mind, is skeptical. You might even say, most people are just too “Canadian” to buy into the catastrophe scenario.
At the same time, those opposing Harper painted him in irredeemable colours that left no room for any allowances being made. It became an all-or-nothing proposition. I hope, with him gone, that that fades and we return to a more balanced assessment of the political choices we face as a country.
The first challenge for the new government will be to hold the interest and commitment of those who “voted for change”. If things slip into the usual morass of qualifications and “buts” and other factors that tend to lead to disillusionment among those who had high expectations, I fear whatever gains we might have made, especially in terms of engagement among the young, could be short lived.
But for today, I’m inspired by my experience as a Deputy Returning Officer. I watched a steady stream of people come forward and cast a ballot believing that what they were doing was significant, important even, and, as I’ve always believed, they were right. The trick now, from my perspective, involves keeping that belief alive. Our future (always has, always will) depends on it.