Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Canadian Elections III

As I outlined in my previous posts on the subject (I & II), I have a new job as a Deputy Returning Officer in my Ottawa Centre riding. I went to the three-hour training session Monday morning, where I found out about the details of my job and even some of the mysterious inner workings of the Canadian electoral system. Spoiled ballots, rejected ballots, scrutineers, poll clerks, screens, deflections, oaths, and the difference between swearing and affirming.

Funny enough, despite my previous lack of enthusiasm for voting, or shall I say, my skepticism in the avowed benevolence of the State system, I'm leaning more towards voting than at any other time during this election cycle, mostly because the guilt of not voting is weighing heavily on me. I think it may have something to do with wanting to counter or respond to the trespasses done in my name. Before I hop onto any voting bandwagon though, there are a few key points sitting rather uncomfortably in the pit of my stomach.

Since my original post, I've had a number of conversations with friends about the importance of voting. A couple dear friends are steadfastly not voting, one choosing to write in her reasons why on the ballot itself, which basically amounts to a non-counted rejected ballot, the other staying at home to protest the state's inaction when it comes to a number of burning social issues, notably the result of War on Terror-like policies and laws on certain racialized groups. However, it seems the majority opinion is that voting for a social democratic party is voting for the betterment of our society, in other words, a more just society. To be clear, I've never doubted that a NDP government would make things better for a larger proportion of the population, economically, socially, etc. In fact, as I stated before, I have voted for the NDP before.

But, if we accept that certain governments will make things better for more people, let's say through universal child care or human rights legislation, how do we explain that for many groups living in Canada very little has changed in the course of the 140 years since Confederation? My question to those who are so keen to vote is how do we account for this discrepancy? Do we not risk participating in a system, one that rewards those who participate as being 'good' and 'ideal' citizens doing their proper duty, that in fact further solidifies inequalities in society?

Where does this idea that the government will do better for those most in need come from? I have received a flurry of emails and group invites urging me to vote, just vote for anybody but the Harper Conservatives. To be honest, I don't really see the difference between the Harper bunch or the Liberals, the only two parties with a chance of forming a government. Remember how the Liberals gutted most of the limited social programs that existed in the early 1990s? Thanks a lot Jean Chrétien, now sometimes nostalgically remembered as a socially-aware, if not casually inept, beacon of reason and fair-play.

The liberal, capitalist nation-state exists and has existed to marginalize, exploit, and manage certain groups of people (indigenous peoples, 'immigrants', people of colour, etc). After all, the Canadian version of the state is premised on the disavowal of indigenous sovereignty. In other words, our so-called freedom is premised on indigenous unfreedom. It is no small wonder that many indigenous nations/peoples refuse to participate in Canadian elections.

It's also no coincidence that such marginalization and exploitation occurs across national boundaries in eerily similar ways. Voting is meant to provide the mass of citizens, however this privileged group of people is selected in a given national community, the opportunity to enact citizenship, however inequitably citizenship is determined.

Besides the clear inequalities manifest in status, region, age, and many other notable social factors in the make-up of the electoral system, all tipped to the dominant race, gender and class hierarchies, election season brings on a number of platitudes about voting as a civic duty. My training session was chalk-full of such liberal doctrine.

What I'd like to suggest is that true change is not going to occur because of the benevolence of the state. This has never happened, the state after all has helped and continues to help constitute inequalities. It does not mitigate against inequalities, this is a central fallacy of liberal political theories. This is why those who vote with the hopes of making things better for a larger group of people will continue to be disappointed. It's a no sum game. Getting more water from your prison guard is something significant and no doubt needed, but it won't get you out of prison.

I think political action needs to continuously occur in relation to the state and its nefarious structures, after all, they continue to exert an extreme amount of pressure on certain groups of people, but I also think it's key to develop ideas and communities that have little to do with the state and its many structures. To articulate a vision of society that radically de-centers the state and builds capacity within various communities in society.

One important question then, becomes whether one can do this while at the same time voting, keeping an eye on the prize, a stateless, radically devolutionary society where groups of people form communities of affinity and organize their politics accordingly. Since I don't see this anywhere on the horizon, voting for a social democratic party like the NDP might just seem reasonable, after all, water when someone needs it is better than no water at all. Reasonable yes, if I can only get around the fact that the Canadian state and what it represents have been the harbinger of terror in the lives of so many people here and abroad. If only I can get around that.


Kelly said...

I'm glad to hear that you're thinking of voting this election. What about working for elections Canada made you change your mind?

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