Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Three Political Cultures

The David Emerson screw up has done something interesting - it has revealed the three primary strains of Canadian political culture. Not mere party politics, but the ways in which people relate to their government and their elected officials, the way they expect those institutions to operate, and the ways in which they believe democracy should work.

Emerson's traitorous jump has revealed this, both in those calling for his ouster and in those defending him. Let's call them the Political, the Representative and the Tribal responses.

The Political attitude is the view that is probably shared by most actual members of political parties. This is the view that people are elected not just on the strength of their own personal character and experience, but because of their party and its platform. Political voters weigh the records of each party and pick the one that they feel will do the best job of governing the country, whether on moral, economic or justice grounds. Note that this means that people who vote for the Tories because they oppose gay marriage, and people who vote Liberal or NDP because they favour it, are essentially in the same class here.

Political voters have been quite angry at Emerson because they expect their politicians to advertise their allegiance beforehand, and to stick with it as closely as possible afterwards. Broken promises are especially hated by this group.

The second group, the Representative voters, essentially favour a kind of direct democracy. They want their MP to do whatever the majority of the voters in the riding want, essentially as a remote-controlled representative of their collective will. This is the purest, democratically speaking, of the three schools. It's actually fairly close in philosophy to the anarchist ideal of recallable delegates, who would essentially have no ability to change their minds without consulting with the group they represent. It was the old Reform Party which upheld this view, although it hasn't been tested until now because of their status as an opposition. I suspect it will crumble under the heady influence of governing.

The Representative voters tend to have a fair bit of overlap with the Political voters, and many people, of course, believe in a bit of both. Most Political types would probably veer into the Representative camp if their MP did something that really offended the sensibilities of a large fraction of the community.

The final category is the only one for which I have no sympathy. The Tribal voters just want someone to bring goodies back to their riding, and don't give a shit what party or person is in power. It's naked pork barrel politics at its worst, and not surprisingly, these amoral opportunists have been Emerson's staunchest defenders. They say that having an MP in cabinet, regardless of party, will be good for the riding, for Vancouver or for British Columbia. There are usually then defences about the 2010 Olympics, about job growth and similar garbage. This type of voter can just crawl into a corner and die, for all I care. All they want is for the government to hand them goodies, and damn any principles along the way.

The Liberal voters of Ontario and the Maritimes have been accused of being this type of voter by many Conservatives over the past 12 years. Those crooked easterners were clearly just voting in a corrupt party so they could cash in with new infrastructure, federal agencies and Employment Insurance weighted toward their industries, the Tories said. Now that tribalism benefits the Tories, the shoe is on the other foot, of course. Many candidates, of all parties, openly campaigned along these lines, promising that if they were to be in the coming government, everyone in their riding would wake up after election day to find themselves living in the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

And that is probably the sickest part of the whole deal.

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