The politics of self-interest

I had a conversation recently with a mayoral candidate from another city. The gist of the conversation was his surprise at my lack of interest in politics in general and historical lack of participation in our democratic process; I have voted maybe twice. Once that I can recall for sure. On that occasion Mike, aka The Best, said that if I was going to waste my vote I should go and vote for his guy. So I did. Fully intend to that is. But I got so rattled by the screwy ballot (Quebec) that I accidentally voted for the other guy.

Politics being his passion, the aspiring mayor was baffled. Revering the democracy and freedoms that we enjoy in Canada, he was, perhaps rightly, scandalized. So I explained it like this, and have been thinking about it ever since.

“Basically, you are competing for a job. You’ll all do the job equally well or poorly within the existing system and it’s a system that I don’t understand or respect. So why do I want to take half a day out of my life to help you to get it?”

I meant no offense and he took none, but I could see that it was a new idea to him, that he was really listening and actually thinking about it and I hope that we get to continue the conversation as I have been thinking about it also. Recent evolution of the discussion hereabouts suggest that it isn’t a new idea in politics. That it’s called You Scratch My Back I’ll Scratch Yours. You get me the job (contract, funding, support etc) that I need and I’ll help you get the one you’re applying for. Shows what I know.

I have also been talking with someone who seems to have a really keen understanding of these things and a great way of explaining them. I learned 1) that the municipal level is different, in that it is not party politics. So when we elect someone to represent or help us, we’re really beginning an ongoing conversation between him and us. That’s actually kind of cool. 2) that party politics, which have always seemed like a three-ring circus to me, are useful in that the elected official has a general idea of the values of the people who elected her to office, enabling her to make myriad decisions without having to mobilize all of us on a daily basis in order to get the job done. Applied politics 101. Somehow knowing this makes the whole thing that much more relevant. Maybe you already knew this stuff.

I had yet another conversation as part of my political education, this time with a municipal aspirant, which ended when I said “I can’t support you unless you can take the high road, and frankly, I sometimes think that you can’t even see it.” A little harsh maybe but if you can’t take it from your friends, maybe you’re not cut out for politics.

The result was that I was “unfriended”. What I thought was a conversation starter turned out to be a conversation stopper. The candidate has since taken out a hit on our neighbourhood association, systematically undermining each constructive effort to help or get to know our neighbours, no matter who is really losing out. Is it any wonder that more people don’t get involved in neighbourhood associations, much less politics? Sometimes it isn’t just the system that’s broken…

The fact is, if someone came along who I thought was going to make a real difference in the lives of you and me and our community, I would not only give up half a day to vote, I’d knock on doors and spread the joy. Probably you would too.


6 thoughts on “The politics of self-interest

  1. I always vote when I am able to. If I don’t then I also don’t get to complain when polititians don’t do what I would like. I’m a died in the wool ‘NDP’ because I think they speak for the little guy/girl. My dad, who was a really shy man. went out and canvased for the first person to run NDP in Oxford County. I respected this so much that I now do volunteer calling (which is really hard for me) for Andrea Horwaths office. If it wasn’t Andrea, who I really respect running, I may vote Green -But I would definitly vote.
    Sometime the little guy/girl has to go to extra ordinary lengths to get seen, not always the best way but they do get noticed.
    ‘I had a dream’ that we all respect and want the best for each other, as I know you do.

    • I vote federal and municipal when able, when i do i look for someone that knows the concerns of
      the place i live and is not out for themselfs. as a volunteer in alot of different groups i deal with the municipal goverment a lot and some of them do know what is going on in the neighbourhoods.
      just like some neighbourhood association and groups they are not interested in helping with
      concerns of the people if it looks bad on them but will help if it looks great on them and will get them more votes next time.we need more people in office that standup for what the people
      in the area wish to see done even if it makes them look bad to some others. i respect that person more then the one that does not. like the comment from Gail ‘I had a Dream’ that we all respected and want the best for each other.
      with out repect and understanding of the concerns of all we can not make this place we live

  2. I grew up in a big time “NDP/Union” family where politics were always discussed around the dinner table. These discussions instilled in me from a young age the importance of voting.

    I’m a Liberal supporter myself (my dad is probably turning in his grave right now), but at the Municipal level I vote for the candidate who I feel best represents my views.

    Voting is especially important to me as a woman because there are still so many places in the world where women are not allowed to vote and where politicians are far more corrupt than those in Canada. It’s important that we exercise our right to vote and it’s important that we educate ourselves in regards to municipal, provincial and federal politics.

  3. You guys are an inspiration. I guess it’s time to do some research and meet the candidates for Hamilton’s round of elections this fall.

  4. Good idea, how about inviting Peter Ormand over to the cafe for a talk about the Green Party.
    He is a good guy and is probably who I will vote for next. You can friend him on Face book.

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