In response to yesterday’s guest blog, Ten things I think I think, a friend of mine made an astute observation via Twitter, namely, “@BillGlisky last I checked ballot, we vote for riding not party leader”.
Technically that’s true. But then again, technically the speed limit on the 401 is 100 kph, but as relatives of mine visiting from the States recently discovered, if you drive 100 kph on the 401 (or any speed limit on virtually any highway) people are blasting past you as if you are standing still.
The situation isn’t quite as universal when it comes to voting, but without a doubt the days when people voted strictly for their local candidate or even just for a particular party regardless of whom was at the helm are long gone – if they ever existed.
The reality is that in the television and Internet age the leader of any particular party has become the focal point of that party. With national advertising becoming so much easier and access to national information at our fingertips, the profile of national leaders simply overwhelms that of local candidates.
This has become even more common in recent years – not just federally but provincially as well – given both the polarizing nature of recent federal party leaders as well as parties’ efforts to both raise the stature of their own leader while attacking the quality of the others.
Whether you think this change is good or not likely depends on your view of the various party leaders and the various local candidates. NDP supporters, for instance, likely don’t mind how much attention Thomas Muclair gets on the national stage given the still relatively low profile of local candidate Terry Cassidy, at least in some parts of the riding.
For me, and this may be my American upbringing influencing my decision, this is at least one area where I think the U.S. got it right and we haven’t.
In the States, voters get to choose both local candidates (plural: they vote for both Congressman – like MPs – and Senators) as well as a vote for president, while we really vote for just, in the long run, the party.
The importance of this goes beyond just the fact sometimes our system is both a little confusing and forces us to sometimes choose between our preference of leader and our preference of candidate.
The problem is that the system, by its very nature, diminishes local voices in favour of the national, party voice.
In Britain, whose system ours mimics, this system worked well as a counter to royal edict and decree, and in Canada’s early days provided an importance unifying element to a country of vast geography and regional opinion.
But technology has overcome the challenges of communication over distance and we have now gone to the other extreme – namely a overwhelmingly strong national voice counteracted not by local voices within the federal system but by the provincial governments alone.
While some would argue this to be an effective check and balance on both levels of government, purists, like myself, would counter that provinces have enough specific responsibilities to residents without adding the role of check on the feds to it.
But if changing the way we vote or altering how we appoint senators is a constitutional nightmare, image changing the very nature of the executive and legislative branches of the government to create an elected executive, separate from elections to the rest of the House of Commons.
That being said, this area has done pretty well over the years, even the recent ones, in terms of electing candidates that were extremely active in the riding (even if they didn’t rock things that much on a national stage.)
Perhaps that is because local interests aligned with what people locally wanted nationally.
Or perhaps, here more than maybe in other places, my friends reading of how we vote is still the measure by which we cast our ballot, despite all the noise being made elsewhere around us.