Susan Delacourt wrote an interesting piece in the Toronto Star about the fact that Canadians are more distant from political parties. The blame appears to lie with the extreme polarization of political parties.
Rather than “reaching out” to Canadians, political parties have been busy dividing the population into likely and unlikely voters; lists of friends and enemies. They now have the technology and the databases to do that sorting in an extremely sophisticated way.
It’s resulted in a world of absolutes, where you’re either 100 per cent right or 100 per cent wrong. The conversation, if it can be called that, consists of people yelling past each other and drive-by insults to the intelligence of anyone who doesn’t agree entirely with the team.
I will grant that the ability of parties to find their supporters is more precise than it used to be. But has there been some change of human nature between now and 1956, or 1856, that makes politics any less of a team sport? It is frequently moronic. But so is sports fandom.
The irony is that Canadians in general have become far less tribal about politics over the past few decades. Where people used to cast their ballots based on loyalty to family voting traditions or geography, they now shop their votes around, often changing their minds several times throughout an electoral campaign.
Political parties, on the other hand, have adjusted to this “flexible” electorate by hardening the choices — you’re either with us or against us.
I see no reason to believe that the ordinary citizen can or should be as partisan as the average political party member. Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats have been, in my experience, conspicuous minorities in any social gathering. Most people do not care for politics, and yet a few, of broader vision perhaps, or narrower interests, or less sense of distance from political life, feel passionately that the government is either the best possible in the circumstances or on a road to perdition.
I do not think Canadians are more distant from political parties than they used to be. Moreover, a country where people were passionately engaged in politics would be in a crisis. The great freedom of Canadian life is the right and ability NOT to be engaged.