I can understand why voters walk away from elections, and why, in an Elections Canada survey following the 2000 federal election, the highest-ranking reason for losing interest in politics by those who didn’t vote was “false promises/dishonesty/lack of confidence in politicians.”
There’s nothing quite as discouraging as taking the time to carefully consider candidates and platforms, figure out the person you think would best represent you, and then have the whole effort be wasted because, to put it bluntly, you based your analysis on a series of facts and commitments that turned out to be false.
I don’t want reinterpretation. I don’t want politicians to come back after an election and insist that I — and the rest of the electorate, for that matter — voted for something that wasn’t even on the table during the election. However, I don’t think that kind of honesty can be legislated.
Others feel differently: here’s part of a press release from Democracy Watch, calling for legislation to allow voters to call their elected leaders on the carpet for breaking election promises.
“No matter how much they study election platforms, voters simply cannot make an informed choice in an election if they do not know which of each party’s promises are false, and this is why honesty in politics is a fundamental voter rights issue.
“In addition, voter rights are violated when politicians or government officials mislead voters,
or politicians switch parties, in-between elections. For all these reasons an honesty-in-politics law and enforcement system with strong penalties is clearly needed in every jurisdiction in Canada to ensure voters have meaningful rights.
“Democracy Watch called on all parties in these provinces and the Northwest Territories to promise they will pass a law making it illegal for all politicians, political staff, Cabinet appointees and all other public officials to mislead the public or be dishonest, and making it illegal except in specific circumstances for politicians to switch parties in between elections. The law must give citizens an easy way to file a complaint with the ethics commissioner or auditor general for the jurisdiction, and giving the commissioner the power to impose very high fines for dishonesty of any type.”
Now, wouldn’t it be fun to watch someone who lied their way into office twist on that particular legal spit?
“Voters are sick of politicians baiting voters with promises, and then switching direction when they win power,” Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher said in the news release.
“The cynicism-breeding habit of politicians and public officials misleading the public will only be stopped if voters have an easy way to challenge dishonesty, and have the misleader punished, similar to the relatively easy way that exists to challenge corporations and corporate executives that are dishonest."
But politicians very quickly forget that they work for us, and often come to believe that they actually personally own their governments.
Name any other job where an employee could reinterpret the terms of their job — to their boss — and expect to keep their job regardless.
Wait for it: we could well be facing a situation where a victorious PC government announces: “The voters have spoken, and they’ve overwhelmingly endorsed our legislative program, which clearly includes the Muskrat Falls project.”
Well, no: the voters may well have spoken, but what those voters were talking about was much less the need for Muskrat Falls than it was an inability to see a viable alternative to the governing Tories.
Any politician who was not deliberately and self-servingly disingenuous knows exactly the same thing: the discussion of the election so far has less to do with the Tories and their policies than it does with the problems of voting for the two opposition parties.
Saying anything else is just false.
But it’s likely to be said anyway.
Well, they’re making promises you already know that they can’t possibly keep. Promises on fish quotas, for example, aren’t even within this province’s legislative ambit.
The NDP? Ready to tear up oil deals to add more taxes on oil companies — already, there’s no chance of that promise ever being kept.
Three different parties, and you already know that whoever wins, they won’t be able to keep all of their promises. Heck, the Tories have already told us they won’t keep their promises if the economy slides.
It’s enough to make anyone throw up their hands.
But the great irony in Democracy Watch’s position?
That they are calling on politicians to make an election promise to legislate keeping election promises.
You might just as well ask for a promise to make the moon into green cheese.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.