To celebrate its 25th-anniversary CPAC launched a four-part documentary series called the Four Pillars of Democracy: Justice, Freedom, Equality, and Representation which highlights four democratic events that have shaped our social and political landscape. Imagine, if you will, these four pillars are actually four legs to a dinner table that holds a feast of the various dishes we call democracy. But no one is eating, in fact, there are barely any dinner guests seated at the table. The Chef calls it voter’s apathy; to bring our dinner guests back we’ll need to review how democracy should work to determine why it’s not working as optimally as it should. In addition to analyzing the four pillars; justice, freedom, equality and representation, we are going to address the mold that is growing, soiling and softly corrupting our sumptuous democratic feast. Soft corruption is easy to recognize but it’s hard to pin down because “everybody does it” and to a certain extent it’s legal, yet we still dine at this table instead of sending its dishes back for a healthier option.
For the most part, I will be drawing my information from one source material, call it a book review if you will, entitled “Soft Corruption: How Unethical Conduct Undermines Good Government and What To Do About It” by William E. Schluter. Now Schluter writes about the topic focusing mainly on his home state New Jersey although the subject is broad and affects state and federal governments at local to national levels and every government around the world suffer from the same ailment. Soft corruption operates through five areas within our democratic system; campaign financing, lobbying, patronage, conflict of interest and through our electoral process. It’s a white collar crime, a catch 22 scenario where many have gotten away with abuse of process while others were pinned to the stake for egregious behavior and actions that seriously undermines our democracy – yet people still do it and oddly enough, get away with it. Yes, to cure our endemic breakout of voter apathy we need to pay attention to the symptomology of these five areas for which soft corruption operates because it is slowly poisoning the sumptuous quality of our democracy.
Soft Corruption – What is it?
Soft corruption occurs when the people who hold public office figure out how to game the system in ways that enrich them and their cronies without breaking any laws. Schluter explains it another way, “This is soft corruption: unethical transgressions carried out in the quest for political power or personal benefit, achieving results that work against the public interest.” And it’s all legal. As such soft corruption is much more pervasive in public office than most people realize.
Soft corruption is found in the exploitation of political and governmental activities such as campaign finance, lobbying, patronage, and the electoral process, as well as potential conflict of interest where a public official act on government matters that provide personal rewards. You can immediately see an example of this play out with our current Finance Minister Bill Morneau, with his personal finances and not put it into a blind trust while, as Finance Minister, makes key decisions for the country which inadvertently benefits his companies. Basically, he’s profiting from his decision-making. However, please note engaging in these processes is not, per se, engaging in soft corruption. They are necessary functions of government that can be performed honestly, fairly, and with integrity.
Schluter continues, “It is only when individuals manipulate government functions for reasons of greed, personal advancement, or political advantage that soft corruption occurs.” And this is what we are currently trying to determine with our Finance Minister. “When legislative leaders seek large campaign contributions from special interests that have a stake in pending legislative proposals with an unspoken quid pro quo, that’s soft corruption. When lobbyists conduct fund-raising events for legislative candidates, that’s soft corruption too. Such practices, all of which pass legal muster, are unethical and work against the public interest. And no one should dismiss them by saying, “that’s politics.”
More so, soft corruption leads to the dysfunction we see at times on national and state [provincial] levels of government, contributing to the public’s lack of confidence in how we the people are represented. Lawmakers who are part of this culture subvert the quality of public policy, thus adversely affecting traditional government responsibilities such as education, healthcare, transportation and social services every time they make a decision for reasons other than an honest assessment of the public policy at stake.
Women in Politics
The possibility of realizing a feminist agenda in federal legislature remains doubtful unless we increase the number women in parliament. Through the lens of an equality-seeking feminist agenda, we will begin our discussion about the four pillars of democracy with a focus on representation, specifically the representation of women in politics to see how best we can accomplish this. Recent years have forced women’s movements and organizations to reflect on the methods and strategies in their advocacy in which they try to bring about political change. The lack of response to organized protest such as World March of Women in Canada (2000 and 2005) brought very little to nothing in the way of policy changes.
The political terrain in which the second-wave feminist operated in the 70s and 80s with much success had changed or is now viewed as symbolic in nature thereby marginalizing the collective identity of women and the accompanying set of demands that emerged from that era. Among elected representatives from political parties, federal ministers, and department bureaucrats it was difficult to accommodate the vision for women’s equality that arose from protests, conferences, and marches. This is partly due to ideological and structural conflict as well as those occupying positions of power in Parliament who no longer regard women’s movements as a political threat.
We’ve seen this through the defunding of women’s programs and core operational funding for women’s organizations quoting “scarce resources” as an excuse not to fund initiatives. Even the umbrella organization the National Action Committee on Status of Women has been largely invisible even to politically attentive citizens since roughly 1993 when the group came out in opposition to the Charlottetown constitutional accord and Brian Mulroney started to cut back their funding.
The ‘closing down’ of other spaces at the provincial level left women little choice but to re-assess lobbying strategies and question whether they would have greater influence working directly within national and provincial/territorial legislatures. We have now seen the effective de-politicization, of many of the key issues identified by women’s movements, which is precisely why some equality-seeking women are now turning their attention to one of the only remaining, potentially responsive political bodies to which women are entitled democratic access, Parliament.
During the World March of Women 2000 and 2005, women and women’s organizations in Canada took the opportunity to reiterate the vital and active role governments can play in the promotion of women’s equality. The Canadian Women’s March Committee, which coordinated the development of a national policy agenda, identified 68 demand directed to the federal government. These demands included the modifications to social and economic policies, human rights codes, labor law, criminal law, immigration and family law and a host of other policy areas. We will examine some of these topics, and how women fair off, under the Four Pillars of Democracy in the next three parts of this four-part series; justice, equality, and freedom.
I became interested in politics in blogging about my creative work and noticed that women still suffer from the decades to centuries of patriarchal social conditioning that is holding us back from advancing. Thanks to feminism, yes we’ve improved yet there are still some areas that need improvement. One day, I was listening to a documentary on CBC the Doc Zone entitled “The F-word: Who Wants To Be a Feminist” where Naomi Wolf said something that resonated with me. She said: “You change the system by putting your hands on the levers of power. When you get your hands on that AND affiliate with other women to make the change, that’s when the last lever breaks through.” Those levers are; money, media and the electoral system (politics). Fast forward a couple years later and here I am writing about women in politics with a deep interest in the opportunity made possible by our Prime Minister’s election promise, in changing our Canadian electoral system so we can finally make those lasting changes that Ms. Wolfe and others speak about and that is so badly needed. But it hasn’t been so easy. Our electoral system is broken, we have voter apathy, despite feminism’s advancements we’re still dealing with outdated patriarchal attitudes and soft corruption. No wonder we can’t get the lasting change that we seek. These problems are not new but it has sunken a little deeper and it is more pervasive.
If we are to answer the call to add more women in Parliament, and politics in general, it is necessary to examine the various mechanisms that hold us back. We have many stats, figures, and reports of how the other areas affect the advancement of women’s agenda but there’s one area that is often overlooked that is just as insidious. Soft corruption operates in somewhat of a clandestine nature so it’s hard to pin down its real effects, yet in many areas, it can directly interfere with receiving more women into politics and therefore in Parliament. Let’s take a broad look at the problem to raise awareness of how these tactics could interfere to downright block our initiatives in seeking larger female representation in Parliament.
Channels of Soft Corruption
It is worth mentioning that there are hundreds of countless thousands of public officials operating through our governments across this land and I’d say the vast majority are honorable and do not participate in any area soft corruption. This distinction must be made to ensure the reader doesn’t think we’re vastly generalizing. Yet it does happen more than one thinks to varying degrees, and we only know of the ones who got caught. Donations, for example, when an individual donates it goes directly to the campaign that aligns best with their concerns and values, hence no conflicts of interests. So, not all contribution is suspect. But it’s the contributions that do not pass the smell test – that leads to direct benefits of donors through government actions that otherwise would not have been taken – are soft corruption at it’s worst. Let’s proceed to break it down:
Without question, campaign financing is the most dominant and all-encompassing of the five forms of soft corruption. It includes the process by which money is raised from donors and the ways in which that money is spent. It pertains to the funding of a particular campaign but also the formation of a political action committee, the spending by a political party, the transfer of dollars from one war chest to another, the funds spent to influence voters to vote “yes” or “no” on a public question, and much more. The other four areas of soft corruption all have a component of political money, thereby connecting them directly and indirectly to the campaign contribution.
Example: Liberal Sponsorship Scandal (“AdScam” or Sponsorgate,)- The sponsorship scandal had massive electoral repercussions for the Liberal Party, which was kept to a rump in Quebec in all general elections between 2004 and 2011. The program was originally established as an effort to raise awareness of the Government of Canada’s contributions to Quebec industries and other activities in order to counter the actions of the Parti Quebecois government of the province that worked to promote Quebec independence. The program ran from 1996 until 2004, when broad corruption was discovered in its operations and the program was discontinued. Illicit and even illegal activities within the administration of the program were revealed, involving misuse and misdirection of public funds intended for government advertising in Quebec. Such misdirection included sponsorship money awarded to Liberal Party-linked ad firms in return for little or no work, in which firms maintained Liberal organizers or fundraisers on their payrolls or donated back part of the money to the Liberal Party. The resulting investigations and scandal affected the Liberal Party of Canada and the then-government of Prime Minister Paul Martin. It was an ongoing affair for years but rose to national prominence in early 2004 after the program was examined by Sheila Fraser, the federal auditor general.
Robocalls (influencing voter turnout) – The Commissioner of Canada Elections received more than 40,000 general communications and complaints about robocalls after the 2011federal election. On polling day, May 2, 2011, hundreds of calls purporting to be from Elections Canada and giving erroneous poll information were made in the riding of Guelph. Investigators linked the calls to a pay-as-you-go cell phone belonging to a non-existent subscriber, identified only as “Pierre Poutine.” A Federal Court judge eventually concluded that fraud was a factor in the robocalls and that the Conservative party database is known as the Constituency Information Management System, or CIMS was likely the source of the contact information used but said that was not enough to overturn the election results. One person, former Conservative staffer Michael Sona, was charged with having wilfully prevented or endeavored to prevent an elector from voting in connection with the Guelph robocalls. Sona was found guilty and was sentenced in October 2014. [CBC.ca, August 14, 2014.
Lobbying is advocacy to influence government decisions. Over the years, lobbying has become institutionalized, and today its practitioners are paid handsomely to achieve results for their clients. Virtually all states [provinces] regulate lobbyists by requiring them to register, identify their clients, and disclose how they spend their money. In many states [provinces], the law limits campaign contributions made by lobbyists. These regulations add to the transparency of the system and help them to prevent outright buying of government decisions, but they do little to diminish the power of lobbyists over public officials.
This power comes in two forms; the campaign money they raise and deliver to lawmakers whose support they are soliciting, and the electoral assistance from the lobbyist’s clients such as labor unions, business associations, developers, gun owners, farmers and other. When lawmakers do the bidding of lobbyists against the best interests of their constituents and the general public, they are engaging in soft corruption.
Schluter continues to explain, as with campaign financing, not all lobbying is soft corruption. Active lobbying is undertaken in the public interest to protect the environment, enhance consumer protection, and advance good government. In fact, not all lobbying paid for by commercial interests solely benefits those interest. There can also be good outcomes from these lobbying efforts, such as in the US, the 2012 bond act for higher education capital construction, supported by New Jersey’s business and commerce associations.
Example: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the top draw at a $1,500 Liberal Party cash-for-access fundraiser at the mansion of a wealthy Chinese-Canadian business executive in May. One of the guests at the event was a well-heeled donor who was seeking Ottawa’s final approval to begin operating a new bank aimed at Canada’s Chinese community. A wealthy Chinese businessman Zhang Bin who, with a partner, donated $1-million to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal, Faculty of Law weeks after the fundraiser, also attended the event. Mr. Zhang is a political adviser to the Chinese government in Beijing and a senior apparatchik in the network of Chinese state promotional activities around the world. Attending the fundraiser appeared to breach the ethical rules laid down by Mr. Trudeau after he took office. These “Open and Accountable Government” rules state “there should be no preferential access or appearance of preferential access” in exchange for political donations. The fundraiser also appeared to violate Liberal Party guidelines that require party officials to ban anyone from attending a fundraiser if they have direct business interests before the government. Meanwhile, the ERRE Final Report suggested a return to per-vote subsidy would help negate this type of political financing, Canadians will feel that their vote would have an effect because it would directly impact the party they supported. It is also more democratic.
Conflict of Interest
Conflict of Interest occurs when a public official is faced with taking action on a government matter that affects or could affect, the personal and business interests of the official, members of the official’s family, or business associates. As a result, says Schluter, most states [provinces] now have laws requiring elected and appointed officials to disclose their personal finances and have promulgated codes of ethics to prohibit specific practices that constitute conflicts of interest. Full and total disclosure is key to ending corruption in government.[emphasis added] Alerting reporters who reveal information on personal financial disclosure forms and campaign contribution records often help to expose ethics violations. One important aspect in preventing and addressing conflicts of interest is the enforcement process. Too often members of ethics enforcement commissions are political appointees who are not enthusiastic advocates for strict enforcement. As a result, those agencies gloss over situations rife with conflict of interest and allow them to continue.
Example – The Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson advised our Finance Minister what to do with his multi-million dollar holdings and that was to be put it into a blind trust. He did not do so but instead, he took advantage of a loophole and placed it in a series of numbered companies. He is doing so, for two years, his companies were able to take advantage and receive profit from his decision-making as Finance Minister.
Patronage in its broader sense is more than government jobs. It also covers the perks, benefits, and favors doled out by the government including purchasing goods, hiring personnel, funding programs granting pensions benefits, and such lesser practices as the use of government cars. Patronage becomes soft corruption when officials award government jobs without competition to unqualified people or dispense benefits as political payoffs.
Example: Madeleine Meilleur: Over her 13 years at Queen’s Park, Meilleur held a number of portfolios under two premiers. She was a long-serving cabinet minister in the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne. When Meilleur left active politics last summer, she had her heart set on securing a Senate appointment. That was until it was made clear that Trudeau’s more independent Senate was no place for a just-retired Liberal politician. She applied for, Commissioner of Official Languages, like anyone else. The official languages commissioner report to Parliament, not the prime minister to act as an independent watchdog. The opposition parties did not sign off on Meilleur’s nomination complaining that the prime minister ignored his legal obligation to consult them prior to making the announcement. There was widespread opposition suspicion that the Liberals like watchdogs best when they are on a leash — just as their predecessors did. In the last election campaign, Trudeau accused Stephen Harper of having turned Parliament Hill into “a partisan swamp.” He said he would clean it up. Ms. Meilleur withdrew her name from the competition. [Toronto Star, Chantal Hebert, May 24, 2017]
22 Senator Appointments – “Despite much good work done by individual senators, the effectiveness of the Senate has been hampered by its reputation as a partisan institution,” Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef said as she unveiled how the Liberals’ plan to make good on a campaign pledge to replace the current system of partisan patronage.
The electoral process is critically important in determining the quality of effectiveness of who governs. Obviously, campaign money is a major factor in deciding which side wins an election. “But campaign money might be crucial in only a small percentage…” says Schluter. In the vast majority of elections, there is little competition, because one party is dominant in so many districts. The race for seats sometimes sees little competition because of the strong political party influence over the redistricting process, which allows those who control the process to tilt the Primary elections are crucial starting points for candidates to advance to elective office. But when strong party bosses control the selection of candidates, the real competition is snuffed out. Many candidates who emerge from this process as elected officials owe their loyalty to the political machine and have little interest in taking independent or controversial stances that might be of greater benefit to their constituents. Manipulation of the candidate selection process by party insiders is a blatant example of soft corruption distribution of partisan voters to the advantage of their party.
During the 2016 ERRE committee hearings Pipa Norris and Ann Decter testified saying that, “There are powerful, informal barriers that work to keep women out of politics, people who are not white out of politics, and people who are [I]ndigenous out of politics. Simply changing the electoral system is not going to address any of these informal barriers that are in place. Moreover, the Supreme Court has ruled that the interpretation of the Charter must be consistent with Canada’s international human rights obligations. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, require member states to abolish all legal barriers to women’s political participation on equal terms with men.
Pippa Norris further suggested that it is “far more difficult for women and other minorities to get elected on the first-past-the-post in single-member districts than it is on the party list.” The under-representation of women and minorities is not necessarily due to a particular political system, but rather attributable to how the nomination process works and how political parties operate. Although electoral reform is not the stand-alone solution to increasing the representation of traditionally underrepresented groups such as women, visible minorities, and Indigenous people, party lists could be a useful tool.
Former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley noted that “currently, the structure of parties and how local association operates to discriminate against the participation of women” Melanie Thomas went so far as to say that embedded in the recruitment process are sexist and racist perception of the ideal candidate. Part of the problem is recruitment. Part of the problem is that senior party officials have this idea that women and racialized minorities are not successful candidates, even though there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. All the evidence shows that when women run, they do win. So really, the issue is about recruitment.
Soft Corruption Means Higher-Cost Governmental
Soft corruption practices in campaign finance, lobbying, conflict of interest, patronage, and electoral manipulation are interrelated; the political pros mix and match strategies in each of these areas to maximize their power and achieve their government objectives. And all of these practices contribute to higher-cost government.
Schluter explains those who do business with government factor campaign contributions and lobbying expenses into the cost of services and products they provide and for which government pays. Despite enactment of the pay-to-play measure that attempts to negate the quid pro quo connection between government contract awards and a campaign contribution, resourceful vendors circumvent these laws. They donate directly to candidates and to PACs, which are exempt from pay-to-play regulation. And pay-to-play laws do not apply to contracting by most county and local government agencies.
Genuine competition in awarding vendor and professional service contracts does not always exist when lawmakers who have related business holdings and connections intercede in influencing awards to favor themselves, associates, or relatives. This often means that government pays more for something of inferior value.
Additionally, there is a coercive element to these cash-for-access fundraisers. Say no, while your business competitors pay up, and you wonder what the long-term cost will be. Cash-for-access is also an elitist, exclusionary element and Trudeau’s fundraising scheme perpetuates the justified perception that there is a club – the people who give money, organize fundraisers, have special access. And you are not part of it. It’s worth noting the situation is far worse in British Columbia. The province has no limits on political donations from unions, corporations or foreign interests. Premier Christy Clark commanded up to $20,000 for a meeting with Donors and didn’t reveal who paid for access. Thankfully we have a new NDP government which promises to do fundraising and conduct business differently.
Consider also the abuse of patronage in the appointment of unqualified people to public jobs and sweetheart deals that result in lucrative retirement payouts of unused sick and vacation compensation. There are cases of pension padding where some government workers are paid generous pension for past services while they are reemployed by the government in positions which high salaries. This practice increases the burden of raising revenue for pensions without producing added value to taxpayers. Double-dipping undermines the basic principle of pensions, which is to provide income for services rendered in public jobs for those who have retired and stay retired.
In terms of patronage, many have asked, do we really need the Senate? How much money would we save if it were to be abolished? It would sure avoid many of the pitfalls and bad governance that we sometimes have had to face. According to an article in MacLeans it points out that “The dramatic centralization of power in Ottawa into the hands of the Prime Minister’s Office means the Senate can no longer play any significant role in the mechanics of Canada’s political system. Where it was once conceived as a forum for providing scrutiny and financial oversight of government business, the rise of public watchdogs such as the auditor general and the Parliamentary Budget Office has entirely supplanted this role. And the Senate’s lack of democratic legitimacy prevents it from pushing back against government initiatives in the name of regional fairness.”
Even the NDP recognized this and answers the question as to the reason why you’d find no NDP representative in the Senate. A sentiment that’s not widely known among Canadians; it has never been the position of NDP to support the Senate, they’ve always called for its abolishment. Instead, the MacLean’s article continues to point out that, “On a daily basis evidence piles up that reveals our upper house to be neither useful nor necessary. An incessant string of scandals and disgraceful conduct by senators has turned the red chamber into a national embarrassment. Its functionality has been eroded to nothing with little prospect for change, despite claims from the Harper government to champion Senate reform. While the Senate may have been a good—perhaps even critical—idea during the founding of Canada, today it serves no real purpose other than to bring itself into disrepute. Rather than a place for sober second thought or regional balance, the upper chamber has become a repository of political cronies, former media personalities, and many other depressingly unserious characters.”
Schluter continues to point out that instead of attracting the best and brightest into government service, as we had in the case of Madeline Meuiller it would perhaps have a propensity for rewarding these whose primary attribute is political loyalty. Competition has always been considered a touchstone of Canadian success, but healthy competition among talented aspirants is largely absent when it comes to advancing in a government office. So again, I ask, if we were to abolish the Senate how much of the Canadian taxpayer’s money will we have saved in terms of their salaries, bonuses, and perks. Unfortunately, on paper, abolition appears as constitutionally difficult as reform.
Soft Corruption Leads to Bad Government Decisions
The second area where soft corruption shortchanges citizens is in the quality of governance delivered by public officials. And indeed, the equality of governance is not abstract. When political power brokers influence public policy in their quest for campaign money, the true interests of the public are of secondary importance. And if raw patronage is allowed to dictate who is named to important government positions, talent and ability are no longer the determining factors in making these appointments. The same applies to the selection of candidates for elective office by political bosses under conditions that are often secret and closed.
When it comes to the Senate, Donna Dasko, Co-Founder of Equal Voice said it’s time for the Upper Chamber to be truly representative of the country” in a letter that urges Trudeau to fill the 22 vacancies with women from “diverse backgrounds,” including Indigenous women, and women from minority linguistic, racial and ethnic communities. In doing so, the prime minister would make the Senate gender equal for the first time in history. “This would achieve the result of a Senate that is 50 per cent female and more representative of Canada,” the letter states. “This is a historic opportunity. Future appointees would include both women and men in equal numbers.”
Representative government is one of the core principles on which our nation was founded. In seeking a government that makes good legislative and administrative decisions, citizens look for quality in their representatives – leaders with integrity, courage, and good judgment who will thoughtfully use their knowledge and experience in government to vote in the best interests of the people they serve. Citizens expect lawmakers to have a reasonable measure of independence to do what is right and not kowtow to special interests or party bosses.
We cannot have government representatives making legislation that would benefit themselves, friends and/or family members, as we’ve seen with Bill Morneau, in a way that brings profit to their personal finances. In doing so, it would weaken our legislation to favor the 1% leaving the 99% to struggle trying to make it to middle-class level and would strongly serve as a disservice to Canadian citizens.
Soft Corruption Contributes to Public Apathy
The five areas of soft corruption have overlapping and intertwining features. Lobbyists raise campaign funds and take part in elections, patronage provides a source of tribute from and take part in elections, patronage provides a source of tribute from job holders as well as cadre of election workers, and conflicts of interests exist when patronage results in a public official holding more than one government job or when contributions are received from special interest donors.
Soft corruption is a national problem and too many Canadians are turned off by their government. Instead of being outraged at a government where lawmakers regularly engage in soft corruption, citizens have become immune to the litany of ethical transgressions that occur in their hometowns and provinces. There seems to be an attitude of “what’s the use?” and “its just politics as usual.”
The Broadbent Institute tabled a report entitled, “An Electoral System for All.” It’s a report that makes the case for changing our electoral system from our present antiquated first-past-the-post to some form of proportional representation highlighting the benefits and the pros and cons of changing our system. When speaking about voters the Institute noticed that today “people expect their democracy to be open and inviting. They expect their representatives to be available, and they want them to reach out and provide opportunities for citizens to take part in the governing of their country. When this is not the case, they check out. We talk a lot about apathy, but the truth, as the 2015 Millennial Dialogue Report showed, is that alienation and disaffection are a more serious problem for Canada. It’s not that people don’t care—it’s that people have given up on a system that excludes them, institutions they see as unresponsive, and politicians they think care little about their voices.”
This sounds a little familiar; the CPAC’s the Four Pillars of Democracy special series, host Peter Van Dusen interviewed Duff Conacher, Co-Founder of Democracy Watch where he said that:
“There are several elements to this, …voters don’t have the right to honest politicians. But voters do have a right to expect politicians to be honest so if you are not honest with the promises you’ve made during the elections, then are you really being represented no matter who you vote for? In terms of ethics, secret lobbying is legal, and there are also problems of donors and their influences of donors and politicians protecting those private interest of those donors as opposed to the public interest and then transparency, as well as an element that is weak and that, leads to a waste of tax payer’s money – all those problems and overall lack of representation including the voting system. We need improvement in all of those big five areas that are key to effective representation.”
When analyzing voters attitudes the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law states that:
Getting voters out to the polls is the first, and often quite difficult, step in learning the preferences of the electorate. Election officials, non-partisan groups, interest groups, political parties, and candidates all work hard to encourage people to let their voices be heard. We know that many Canadians do not vote and that the percentage has declined since only a few decades ago….What explains the decline in turnout in Canada? Some point to less competitive elections…Others note that while there is a life cycle component to turnout, such that people tend to vote more as they age, so there also appears to be a generational component.
The question should really be why does anyone turn out at all? Or Why do Canadians vote at all? ….Satisfying one’s sense of duty can be considered one of the tangible benefits of turning out to vote. … with a strong sense of duty, the rational choice explanation of turnout has no power, as “Those with a strong sense of duty almost always vote and those who abstain, at a particular election, do so for idiosyncratic reasons.”
Duty is a value that individuals are socialized into accepting. If people grow up believing that they have a civic duty to go to the polls during each election, then they are more likely to receive satisfaction from voting. This norm, however, is weakening. The decline in turnout is partly related to a decline in the sense of duty among younger generations….”
Duty, not being heard, not keeping promises, honesty, and soft corruption’s big five; lobbying, conflict of interest, campaign financing, patronage, and the electorate = voter apathy.
Creating New Possibilities
Soft corruption interferes with the advancing of women’s issues both directly, through the electoral process, lobbying, patronage not hiring the best person for the job – which could be a woman as much as a man; and indirectly such as conflict of interest, campaign financing. They are all interrelated and slows progress for a women’s equality-seeking agenda. Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau was quoted saying more women in government and on corporate boards can mean less conflict and “aggressive, ego-driven” tactics.” We want politics to be less like that,” Trudeau said. “Let’s start rewarding companies and politicians who aren’t driven by a macho, ego approach and support people who take a much more respectful, conciliatory, open, and inclusive approach.” And that, in turn, creates good governance.
What we are trying to accomplish by electing more women into politics is to create new possibilities for the pursuit of a feminist policy agenda. Yet, many would seek to participate if weren’t for the high expenses to run a campaign. Contenders are getting younger and with that are family obligations in terms of work-life balance. And there are others who are financially secure but might not be the best candidate for the job but gains access and perhaps win because they have the financial means to do so. Additionally, campaign financing scandals take the money and the opportunity for a party to create financial support mechanisms and professional development to ensure the right person gets the job rather than the person who has the money or consistent high paying donors.
At a recent conference at the University of Toronto, Gloria Steinem answers a question about women having it all she said “You can’t have it all if you have to do it all. It’s not human nature to live in the hierarchical way we do.” So in the closing reflections, women must realize that these types of opportunities, such as changing our electoral system, do not come along very often, therefore, those who have fought long and hard to assert a feminist policy agenda and those who continue to do so must be ready for that challenge.
Yet an agenda with substantive women’s equality needs a broader and louder voice heralded by women across the political spectrum. This voice will not be welcomed let alone recognized as a legitimate political intervention. As we continue a national dialogue of changing our electoral system it is imperative that that feminist and/or equality-seeking women’s voices are integral in those discussions. The goals of equality, inclusiveness, and justice that define the feminists’ political project in Canada must be central to any reform of Parliament.