So begins the quadrennial Canadian season of sound with no substance, rhetoric with no relevance and promises with no perspective. In other words, dear reader, it’s election time.
But wait, you cleverly elucidate, elections don’t manufacture vapid, gormless, pontificators; politicians are always with us, like potholes.
Agreed: No, they don’t; and yes, they are.
The difference this season is that there are far more of them serving the same brand of powdered cereal than there are those of us happy to swallow it.
Which is, when you think about it, ironic.
In recent times, we’ve wanted real leaders to remind us how precious, fragile and sublime this notion of democratic self-rule really is. We’ve expected them to regale us with tales of the tough, brave work that builds and sustains knowledgeable, tolerant and engaged societies. We’ve honoured their education, expertise and reason; even mindfulness, solicitude and compassion.
At least, that’s what we’ve said.
But the moment they’ve stood apart from the pabulum pushers by telling us that membership in a civil society also demands certain obligations of us, we’ve turned a deaf ear. And before we’ve found ourselves in peril of learning a thing or two about history, public service, collective responsibility and authentic sacrifice, we’ve swarmed the dinner bowls brimming with the very digestives we say we despise.
As a result, here’s what’s on the menu this year:
The Liberals want you to “choose forward,” because they’re way better than the Conservatives, who insist you “get ahead,” because they’re much cooler than the NDPers, who are “in it for you,” because they’re loads smarter than the Greens, who urge you to move “forward together,” and are suddenly sharing the same campaign meme with the Grits, who are way better than the Tories, and so on. …
What’s for dessert? A little Donald Trump a la Boris Johnson?
Still, if growing numbers of Canadians are finally nauseated with their political choices this election season, they can stay home and refuse to vote – which is tantamount to firing a chef you didn’t hire in the first place. Or they can suck in their bellies and eat their brussels sprouts.
Democracy is not something that merely happens in the natural course of events. It doesn’t somehow spring to life, fully grown and fuelled to vanquish vandals wielding weapons of both mass destruction and distraction.
Enlightened human beings invented it to protect themselves against tribalism, chaos and all the darknesses at noon that threaten the body politic, the public square and the shared institutions we hold dear.
Of course, to invent something, you have to know something that’s bigger than your fears, your knee-jerk reactions, your transitory attitudes, your momentary appetites, your social-media feeds, your fellow twits, facebookers and instagrammarians.
You have to appreciate – to recognize – the difference between phoney leadership and the genuine article, and you have to be willing to invest in the latter, regardless of the risk, to upend the former.
South of the border, in the United States, a woman named Elizabeth Warren has spent the better part of a career holding government to account with facts, logic and appeals to communitarian principles, policies and programs. She’s running as a Democratic contender for that party’s presidential candidate nomination, but to hear her speak, you wouldn’t know it.
The women who once said, “I’m willing to throw my body in front of the bus to stop bad ideas,” also said, “No matter how good a deal sounds, if your name goes on the bottom line, you need to understand it and be sure you’ll be able to pay. You are responsible for yourself forever. Forever.”
The words are full of substance, relevance and perspective.
We might remember them as we contemplate the gruel we are about to swallow here in the Great White North this election season.
Alec Bruce is a Halifax journalist who writes about business, politics and social issues, and editor of Troy Media Partner news site The Bluenose Bulletin..