One reason only half of us vote is that we see little difference between parties. They all play political games to keep their jobs and get in power. They make promises they either don’t intend to keep, or back away from when they meet resistance that they expected or should have expected. Unfortunately, the political system encourages this kind of behaviour.
Our challenge is to find political leaders to vote for who don’t make whatever promises will win elections without serious intention to implement those promises, and who don’t, when in office play, whatever political games seem likely to win re-election.
The answer to the destructive effects of “politics as usual” is, for political office seekers and voters alike, to stop accepting that the rules of the game are the way politics must be done.
Rules of the game
The root cause of political delusion is that the highest priority of many of our politicians is not to make a difference, but to preserve their jobs. If politicians acknowledge a problem, like the ballooning provincial debt, the public might want to know how the politicians plan to tackle the problem. And that would require more truth-telling, which might upset voters, and run the risk of losing votes. And getting re-elected is the primary rule of the game.
Graham Steele wrote “What I Learned About Politics: Inside the Rise – and Collapse – of Nova Scotia’s NDP Government.” In it, Steele described the rules of the game, and in introducing them, wrote: “Being in politics makes you dumb, and the longer you’re in politics, the dumber you get.” Politicians follow the rules of the game because they work. And they work because voters don’t insist on something better. Voters don’t insist on truth-telling.
Other rules of the game:
• Perception is reality. It doesn’t matter what is true.
• The electorate is busy and distracted, so find something simple to say and reduce it to slogans, scandals, personalities and images, and stay away from policy and hard choices.
• Politics is a team sport. Be loyal and stick with your team. The other side wants to take your job — you must destroy them.
• Deny that these Rules exist.
The problem with the rules of the game is they produce avoidance of unpleasant truths and short-term decision-making, which fail to address solutions for the long term.
So, change the rules
The answer to the destructive effects of “politics as usual” is, for political office seekers and voters alike, to stop accepting that the rules of the game are the way politics must be done. Political candidates and political office holders have a role in bringing about this change, but the voters — who reward political game-playing, who enable success by the rules of the game — have the determining role. Only voters can change the rules, by demanding the truth.
Character is the primary quality we should look for in a political leader. It is character that delivers true change, tackles crises and leads a course to a prosperous future. In a report on my website, I talk more about character, and different skills and qualities voters can consider when deciding whether to vote for a candidate. One of these qualities is a willingness to defy the rules of the Game. It might help you in your quest for a political candidate you can believe in.
The need to restore confidence in our democratic institutions is the reason I propose an Honesty in Politics Act, which would hold politicians legally accountable for promises made which voters reasonably take as solemn. One way of removing doubt from whether a promise is subject to accountability under the Honesty in Politics Act is to provide for politicians to expressly opt their promises into the act. If a politician fails to do so, then voters can draw a negative conclusion as to whether the politician has a serious intent to implement the promise.
My Connect with Crosbie tour around the province has convinced me that at this stage of our journey as a province, teetering on the financial brink, voters are not just ready but longing for mature political leaders who treat voters as adults, and give us straight talk about our challenges and a credible plan to meet them.
Ches Crosbie, leadership candidate
Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador