On Partisanship and Democracy


Federal elections are a difficult time for Canada’s political leaders to set priorities. Not all issues can be addressed, some policies will remain the same, and others will be changed for the benefit of some and the detriment of others.

Policies are fetishized as though they were set in stone. Our political candidates endlessly present ultimatums which divide complex issues into unpractical polarities. The choices are framed as though all Canadians have lived merely for this moment of choice, after which the elected candidate will remain in power as an uncontested dictator.

This election does not represent the end of political life. There will be other elections down the road and there will be other politicians.

However, after all has been said and done, this is still an important moment. The state of Canada’s democracy has become a fundamental issue, and many Canadians are growing increasingly concerned about this. A variety of community groups such as Catch 22 campaign, Samara Canada, and Project Democracy speak to this.

The one common denominator for all voters is our two candidates for Prime Minister. I say two candidates, as I think we can all agree that Jack Layton, Elizabeth May, and Gilles Duceppe will not become Prime Minister this go around. That leaves us with Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff, and although people may not care what I have to say, I decided to post what I think of each of them:

Stephen Harper
Absolute partisanship summarizes my view of Stephen Harper. From debates taking place in the House of Commons to the present electoral campaign messages, Harper’s view of politics concerns me. It is a polarized “my way or the highway” style of politics lacking in the space and time required to reflect on issues. His reductive either/or approach leaves little room for alternatives. He does not gives us meaningful choices.

With regard to policies and debates within Parliament, in my view Harper seldom provides meaningful arguments for his stance (i.e. corporate tax cuts, Bev Oda). Too often, his arguments seem ideological in nature. When addressing a question, his habit to undermine the very essence of the question and resort to reiteration, word by word. He is not an open communicator, and thus, is not transparent in his processes of governing our nation. He seems to portray a level of selective amnesia and seems to refuse to recognize the very reasons for which this election is to take place. He advocates blind partisanship and I feel that many Canadians understand that politics is much larger than political parties.

Michael Ignatieff
Michael Ignatieff’s constant focus on himself also leaves much to be desired as is his egocentric claim that only he will be able to defeat Harper’s government. I mean, obviously there is truth to that under our current electoral system, but I often wish he’d take a larger, more conciliatory view.

I am surprised by how quickly and emphatically Ignatieff rejected the idea of working in a coalition. He too, strikes me as too partisan. I feel that we need a leader who can work cooperatively with the other parties of Parliament. One Liberal and two Conservative minority governments have crumbled for this reason and should Ignatieff forget this the best we could hope for is more of the same.

But despite these observations, I feel that there is hope.

The important factor to consider for this election is that our society is not static. Our society is in constant flux as each and every one of us is dynamic; we are all dynamic individuals. This is not a life or death situation as these leaders imply. Inert and stagnant ideals of partisanship do not have to be our only choice. We can vote for change. We can make demands. As our lives are shaped and reshaped by personal and external circumstances, so does the shape of politics change.

Whichever party wins, if Canadians closely watch and participate, political ultimatums of fear reiterated in electoral rhetoric will become meaningless. If Canadians took the initiative and engaged in their democracy a bit more, we will be able to hold our next government accountable. Democracy is a privilege people in countries around the world are still fighting for. Let’s not forget that.

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  1. deborah brady says:

    in hindsite, don’t you think a thoroughly non-partisan approach to the subject matter of your article, might have included comment about layton and may. after all, for many years the frontrunners have benefitted from simplistic polarization of the issues, and as our educated populace sifts through the mud, sooner or later new trends will emerge. this was a watershed election, and now dawns a new day when people vote for reasons other than mere personal advantage. watch out christy clark. you’re next on the chopping block. refunding gst to those who can least afford it must be income based, and can only be a refundable credit. but this would cost some serious dough, so she chooses to appeal to a narrow constituency that she thinks belongs to her. the people are smarter than this.

  2. min reyes says:

    Dear Deborah,

    Thank you for taking the time to leave us your comment.

    Please be advised that my editor has pointed out your concerns prior to the publishing of the article.

    At the specific moment I was writing, my concerns were the rhetoric of personal attacks that were dominating our mainstream media. It was my personal focus to examine the similar strategies both Harper and Ignatieff were applying during the campaigns.

    As my editor showed concerns, I did inform him that my articles tend to reflect the context within which my analysis takes place. I understand that this is a non-partisan communication outlet, yet it was very important to make my argument very simple by narrowing it down to the discourses of these two specific leaders.

    I now believe that perhaps I should have addressed all leaders. And for this shortcoming, I apologize.

    In regards to the polarization of politics, I believe that having experienced what we have during and after the elections, Canadians have been given a chance to critically begin engaging in politics much more than before. And I see this form of engagement already materializing. People are beginning to question, seek answers, and holding passionate discussions. I am especially encouraged to see young Canadians more actively participating in their local ridings.

    If you have any other concerns, please feel free to contact me. I am always excited to engage with other Canadians who are interested in making a difference.

    You can contact me at min.ryu@mac.com or via my website http://minreyes.ca

    Only together, can Canadians redefine politics and thus, our government.

    Thank you.

    Min Reyes

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