On April 27, Iceland’s Pirate Party took 5.1 per cent of that country’s vote and, based on that share, will have three seats in the Icelandic Parliament, the Althingi.
Birgitta Jonsdottir, the party’s leader, said the international Internet movement (there’s a Pirate Party of Canada as well) views itself as “the political arm of the information revolution,” and says its goals of freedom of expression and political transparency are hitting a chord with voters.
“We feel that most people, not only in Iceland but all over the world, feel that the institutions that are set up no longer function for us,” she told the Associated Press. “We need to create a new mainframe, a new hardware for this stuff.”
Five per cent is no landslide, but it is an interesting measure of dissatisfaction, a good, solid number of voters willing to take a chance on something well outside the mainstream.
It’s well worth thinking about, just two years after the last federal election, an election where many people — including scores of young people — found nothing at all worth taking a chance on. Why not? Ask them, and you’ll hear the
same answer: because politicians and parties are all the same.
Why do young people in this country feel that political parties are all the same?
Well, because, functionally, they are.
You could call it hardening of the arteries.
We have created a system of entrenched parties: the three biggest in the country have effectively made it impossible for new entrants and, like regional development boards of old, exist first and foremost to further their own existence.
What I mean by that is an old saw: the first money that a board looks for is the money it needs to continue its own operations — to pay its rent, its power bills and the salaries of any paid staff. After that, it seeks funding to improve the situation of the area it serves. It’s not a put-down of development boards, it’s just a fact of life. (It is a sort of common sense, like putting on your own oxygen mask when the masks drop in a plane, and then helping others, or stopping your own blood loss before providing first aid to others.)
Canada’s major parties are the same: the first duty they serve is to maintain themselves, and to maintain their place in the political firmament.
That means all three have a keen interest in preserving the status quo: that means maintaining their internal structures and employees, and maintaining Canada’s first-past-the-post election system, a system that can hand majority control of a parliament to a government with the electoral support of just 37 per cent of voters.
That the system isn’t working is pretty clear: there were 24.3 million eligible voters in the last federal election, of which 14,823,406 actually cast votes. Of those, 5,835,270 voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives — in other words, the Tories ended up with a government that will follow its own self-determined mandate, based on the solid support of something like one-quarter of Canadian voters.
The harsh truth? For every single person who voted for Harper, three didn’t.
It’s all well and good to say that if you don’t vote, then you get the government you deserve.
That is a truism; what you don’t see is anyone trying to fix what’s clearly a problem.
Because fixing it is dangerous — very dangerous — for the status quo. And regardless of any good intentions, Canada’s major political parties will most assuredly take care of themselves first.
Calvin Barrett from Labrador City had a letter to the editor on April 29 that had this intriguing idea: “We need more individuals of great character with strong ethical values to step forward and offer themselves for election. I know we have many of those people in our communities. The big challenge is convincing them to jump into the current sandbox, and then supporting them to make big change: first, remove the persons of poor character from the sandbox; second, remove the sandbox; and third, restore the arenas of government to places of great respect, as intended by its founders.”
He’s right: we do have those people and we do have to convince them to jump in.
The problem is that the current occupants of the sandbox have absolutely no interest in changing the rules, absolutely no interest in letting anyone else in — and, with no rule changes, they’ll simply savage any new entrants and drag everybody down to the same level.
You can see that in action on any day in either Parliament or our House of Assembly.
That is something we have to change — because the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP have no interest in real change.
In fact, they have a vested interest in keeping things exactly the same. They need it that way.
Ordinary citizens don’t. We may need pirates.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.