Voter cynicism does not serve Americans well

First published: Oct. 25, 2000

The American presidential race has left voters struggling to distinguish the two candidates. Jokingly Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush are referred to as Gush and Bore because their respective profiles are nearly identical: baby boomers, early ’50s, long-time married, second-generation politicians.

While the parties they represent differ in ideologies, the platforms on which both men are running are very similar with only minor semantic differences meant to leave average voters with the sensation of having a choice.

“They both say whatever they need to get elected,” says Sandra Jacobs, 47, a Cleveland receptionist in a Toronto Star article on Oct. 21.”They both make the same promises. They’ll never keep them.”

No doubt Ms. Jacobs could be speaking for many voters in Northumberland. As we watch the municipal campaigns gathering momentum with the various meetings, door knocking and signage covering the local landscape, it is truly hard to tell the difference.

Incumbents run on longtime records that feed our need to maintain the status quo rather than face unknown change. Sure many opponents will promise all kinds of new approaches and attitudes. And they are all very sincere.

But once they sit down around the council chambers, then what? Some start off really well. But after time, not many would really show the fortitude to take on major developers like Wal-Mart or listen to downtown merchants or upset residents in a neighborhood. Even when these lone rangers on council do stand up, it is rare they are effective enough to sway the majority over to their side for the greater good. Or they become isolated by the rest of council and are branded rouges. A few become effective, but those are rare cases.

But these politicians pale in comparison to their federal counterparts who are coming off the blocks this week. Nearly every major political party is scrambling for the same place on the spectrum.

The mini-budget delivered by Finance Minister Paul Martin was a wrenching display of the turf war voters will watch over fiscal policy during the campaign.  The Liberals promise to put $100 billion back into Canadian’s pockets over the next five years (if they form the government). The Canadian Alliance proposes the Fair Tax Plan, cutting $124 billion over five years, including sweeping reform of the system.

But some analysis done by Ernst &Young’s accountants shows the change is not going to help the average person very much for the 2001tax year. The major exception is for those in the high income brackets of $100,000 or more. That doesn’t apply to too many people living in Northumberland County. In fact, neither party is helping the majority of Canadians.

What both parties are doing is expanding the definition of the middle class, a social stratum that once meant people like us – average Canadians. What Liberals and the Alliance are doing is shaping policies aimed at people who hardly reflect the working class, a majority of people living in the county. The median income in our area is about $41,000. That means two people would have to be working even to come close.

So while both main parties duke it out for the hearts of the affluent, the Tories and the NDP are offering little, if anything, solid for an alternative. Suddenly Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark is looking like the only person who has held his ground. And NDP leader Alexa McDonough is firing off empty one-liners without nabbing public attention for her party’s position.

As pollsters feed the campaign machines in both the municipal and federal elections, we will watch more and more promises that do little to answer the tough problems we face in our daily lives. Giving people decent health care and a good education means someone has to come up with a policy that isn’t engineered to be a sound bite. Helping the unemployed find work and giving the homeless a roof over their heads is not even part of the debate at this point. Ending violence against women or a national day care plan is off the political radar. Resolving the hardship farmers face is a footnote in policy books.

Advisors will churn out volumes of rhetoric for candidates aimed at appeasing our distrust. We end up at the same place as we start, with our friend Ms. Jacobs, wondering out loud if there is any difference or a decent alternative. Unfortunately if we flip the first letter of the leader’s last names, it isn’t funny. But neither are their policies.

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