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Friday, June 18, 2010

Engaging youth in the democratic process: responses in a short interview

The following are my answers prepared for a short interview conducted as part of a course project by a Leduc school student.

1.) Do you see a problem in the democracy we have in Canada, where only 50-60% of eligible voters vote? Explain.
As you’ve correctly mentioned in your question, there is definitely a problem with low voter participation, but I wouldn’t say that it’s the core issue at play here. There are two issues that, to my mind, build up a serious crisis of the democratic system in Canada. First of all, there is a great disconnect between federal politics and federal politicians and the rest of Canada. Much of the time, politics is filled with discussions that are difficult to follow, language that is hard to understand, and issues that don’t always strike home for the voters. This makes many people annoyed and eventually disinterested in politics. The second major issue is the fact that our electoral system disregards the votes of millions of Canadians. The first-past-the-post system that we have is similar to the first-come-first-served system. If you’d voted for the candidate that came first, then your vote is important. If your candidate came one vote behind the leader, then the system couldn’t care less for your vote. As a result, we now have a federal government elected by 15% of the population. These issues together bring about political apathy and low voter turnout.

2.) Why do you believe Alberta has essentially only elected Conservative MP’s for the past 30+ years?
Well, one of the reasons is the undemocratic electoral system that I mentioned just now: in our riding of Edmonton-Leduc, the Conservative MP was elected in 2008 with 33,000 votes – there are over 100,000 voters living here. Another reason is that over almost half a century people in Alberta are being told again and again that this is Conservative country, that this is a Tory stronghold, that no one else stands a chance. If someone tells you something for decades, you might as well believe it. But I think that the situation is going to change. A very hopeful sign is the election of Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona. The Tories are visibly losing ground in other ridings in the province as well. In South-West Edmonton, in Leduc, in Devon, when I go door-knocking or when we organize public events, there are always new people that come up to me and say “Thank you for showing that the Conservative ideology is not the only one, that we have a choice.”

3.) When did you first start getting into politics? Why?
I first got into politics when I was 15.5 years old. I had just graduated from school, when I found out that the government of the region I was living in at the time had decided to build an oil refinery inside a protected area. That’s when I went right into battle to do my best to prevent this from happening.

4.) What did you do when you first started getting into politics?
At the time, I was helping local environmental and human-rights groups with leafleting, door-knocking, organizing events. We also created human chains to stop construction from starting. In the end, the local government backed down. The natural protected area is still there.

5.) Why did you join the political party you are now going to run for?
I have been with the New Democratic Party of Canada since 2006. I was doing my MA at the time and my field of research is actually political discourse, the language of political parties and leaders. The language, if you look at it closely, can reveal a lot about a person or a group. When I listened to or read Conservative and Liberal speeches and press releases, I felt that these parties do not stand for the values that I hold, they contained a lot of self-congratulation for the work well done, whereas those prepared by New Democrats were about real problems and real challenges faced by Canadians, such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, the cost of university education, quality of health care services etc.

6.) What motivated you to run for MP?
My basic answer is that it’s the best way to get to know your neighborhood. But seriously, when I moved to this riding, all I could hear about local politics was that this was a Tory wasteland and nothing anyone did would ever change that. When someone tells me that something cannot be done no matter how hard one tries, I don’t believe it. It’s just like the favorite Conservative lie about the New Democrats – “They will never form government”. The people of British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia have shown that it is not true, but the lie keeps going. Change is possible if you really try. I believe that Canada needs change from the arrogance and short-sightedness governing us now and that is why I initially sought nomination as NDP candidate in Edmonton-Leduc.

7.) Do you or your party have any plans to change the downward trend of eligible voters voting in Canadian elections?
Yes. The first step is opening wide debate about changing the electoral system so that the voice of a New Democrat or Liberal in this and other ridings is worth as much as the vote for the Conservative Party. I personally favor proportional representation, in which each party gets the same percentage of seats as the popular vote. The second step is making politics interesting again – greater accessibility of our elected representatives, making recall of MPs and MLAs possible, changing the way that political discussions are structured so that the language and the issues are closer to real life.

8.) What can a young voter do to be engaged with Canadian politics?
There are a lot of ways to get involved. You can organize events to discuss current issues. Write to your local newspaper when something is close to your heart. Participate as a volunteer in a candidate’s campaign. Write a blog on how decisions in Ottawa affect you and your family and friends. Most importantly, encourage people you talk to to vote, and once you are 18, you can vote as well.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Putting the Tories on probation again? Really?

Whenever anyone representing the Liberal Party of Canada says that they will be "vigilant", "alert", "hyper-attentive", "bluh bluh bluh" etc., I at once remember the historic decision made by Ignatieff et al. to let the previous Conservative budget slip by them and thereby kill the attempted coalition of opposition parties by "putting this government of probation". We all know what that "probation" lead to and how much it good it brought Canada and Canadians and the Liberal Party of Canada.

Last week, the Liberals have vigilantly passed another Tory budget, marking the 100th time they had supported a major piece of anti-social and anti-common-sense legislation. This week, they have alertly put a big "X" across the Afghan detainee documents issue by hyper-attentively agreeing to a deal that would likely lead to these documents being released to no one and the truth being known by no one.

I just wanted to say, Mr. Ignatieff, you and your friends can keep playing this "probation" game, but I'm sure Canadians, including liberals, have grown tired of listening to Liberal explanations on why the official opposition party is opposition only in its official title and why you let the Tory minority rule as few majorities govern elsewhere.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What is the Liberal position on electoral reform?

We had a very enjoyable discussion on political reform in Edmonton today. Senate reform, Parliament reform and electoral reform were the main items touched upon. As the electoral reform was being discussed, several participants of our forum brought forward the idea that every party in Canada needs to declare its position on this topic prior to the next federal election and should also provide a specific plan on what it would do to realize this position.

As a representative of the NDP at the meeting, I stated that the New Democrats support electoral reform to make every vote count and that some form of proportional representation was probably the way to go. The Greens, as far as I understand, have a similar viewpoint on the need for electoral reform. As correctly noted by one of the people today, Tories would be the last party to ask to support electoral reform, as they are quite satisfied with the first-come-first-served (aka first-past-the-post) system. But what is the position of the Liberals? Is there a centralized viewpoint on this among them?

I personally think that before any talk of a coalition between the parties can be started, this needs to be cleared up. Electoral reform may well be the uniting or separating factor in the next federal election. With every new election when the issue of making each vote equal is swept under the rug, the injustice is perpetuated further, damaging our democracy and turning people away from taking any interest in politics.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"I'm sure there are a lot of New Democrats who are getting fed up with their fate."

Ever since I saw this quote from Warren Kinsella, I've been wondering what he had meant, if anything. What fate is it that New Democrats are to be fed up with?

Gaining seats and popular support with each election? Demonstrating full ability to govern, to take responsibility for complex decisions, to find compromise and work with other political forces? If there is a meaning to this phrase I'm not seeing it. I, for one, am proud to be a New Democrat and a federal candidate for the party.

If there is anything I'm fed up with it's the Liberal circus of being voted into the House of Commons as Liberals but voting as Tories ever since.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What kind of news do people watch/read/listen to?

In the past week, I've really started to wonder what kind of news sources the majority of my neighbors here in Edmonton-Leduc and throughout Canada have. I'm dreading the end of the week and then the end of the month when new poll results will come out, probably showing Tories still in the lead. "How can it be?" - I will wonder yet again.

But really, how can it? In the past week, the following news items have come up repeatedly:
  • 1 billion dollars wasted spent on G8/G20 security alone
  • Political staffers and aids to ministers no longer permitted to testify before Parliamentary inquiries and panels
  • Three Tory ministers came uninvited to a Parliamentary hearing and acted as self-assured bullies
  • Canada is one of a very small number of countries in the world that appears to see little or nothing wrong in military attacks against civilian vessels in international waters
  • Each and every speech, presentation, answer, phone call, event etc. organized by anyone linked to the federal government may first need to be vetted by PMO
  • Millions of dollars spend on "infrastructure" projects "linked" to G8/G20 but nowhere in proximity of the two summits
  • And, last (for now), 2 million dollars are being spent on making an artificial show-off lake (aka "Harper's Folly") in Toronto

Reading either one of this gets one uneasy or troubled or puzzled or at least curious as to what the federal government is doing to our economy and our democracy. Why not?

ADDITION: I may be wrong in my pessimism! Hurray! NDP at 20.7%.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A letter to the Edmonton Examiner

The political cartoon published in the June 2 issue of the Examiner demonstrates clear disregard and lack of a knowledge base regarding the New Democratic Party of Canada. A quick glance at electoral results from the past decade demonstrates that the NDP has attracted 1.5 million new supporters since election 2000 and was the party of choice of 2.5 million people in the last federal election. During the same time period, the Liberals had less and less support with each election. Poll after poll has shown that Canadians recognize Jack Layton's great capacity as a national leader at a time when our democratic institutions and basic values are put to a test by an arrogant and short-sighted minority government.
I would have expected negation of the voices of millions of Canadians from a reactionary paper. Until this week, I had no idea Edmonton Examiner was one.

Artem Medvedev
Edmonton-Leduc NDP

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

On hysterics and circus at parliamentary committees

To my mind, anyone, be it a government official or a mischievous child, screaming and otherwise actively and inappropriately drawing attention at a parliamentary committee is a strange and undesirable event. But to have three Tory ministers come to a parliamentary committee (to which they were not invited on that particular day) and start a childish show of arrogance and disrespect for others - that's not really describable through regular English. Is growing up at some point in time at least a vague plan for the current federal leadership?