Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why imagination is necessary for governance

It seems that disenchanted Canadian voters could not even bother to go to the polls on Tuesday. A mere 59.1 percent of voters cast their votes – the smallest number of electors to vote in any election in Canada, ever. (There is a letter from someone who did not go to the polls in today's Toronto Star. It explains that, in the absence of any clearly articulated platform for which to vote – as distinct from a host of reasons as to why an opponent did not deserve to be elected – the writer's abstaining was a deliberate, considered choice.) Of the people who went to the polls, only 37.63% voted for Stephen Harper's Conservative Party. Using the figures on the net, that means that just over five million out of almost twenty-three million voters elected the Conservatives – in other words, not even a quarter of eligible Canadian voters. Thus Mr Harper broke his own fixed-date-for-voting legislation and spent some $300 million dollars of taxpayers' money on an election that has left us, effectively (never mind the Conservative 'gains') exactly where we were in the first place, with a minority government with which, according to the Prime Minister, it is impossible to run the country. It ought to keep the Conservatives humble. We'll see. The good news is that many first time voters turned up at the polls! Good for you, first time voters! You will have a vested interest in the country for longer than any of the rest of us, so BIG UPS for turning up to have your say! As I contemplate the distressing fact that our system of (mis)representation makes it possible for a government to take office when so few of those who voted actually chose it, it occurs to me that a little Bible might not be amiss. According to Proverbs 29:18, "Without vision, the people perish." In this context, "vision" probably refers to the gift of prophecy, at least according to the notes in my copy of The Jerusalem Bible – for information (especially fsjl's), a text in large part translated from the original Hebrew and Greek. We'll come back some other time to the matter of just what prophecy is. Suffice it to say that it is part of Jewish, Islamic and Christian traditions. Let's for the moment agree that a country (read 'people' in the phrase from Proverbs) needs wise leadership ('vision'). Despite a lot of recent talk about leadership based on experience, the truth is, in this highly complex, swift-moving modern world, no politician can have all the experience necessary to deal with the social, political, economic, industrial, agricultural, environmental, fiscal, health, educational, immigration, security, defense, etc., etc., issues. And in the absence of experience, one faculty and only one will serve, and it's the faculty of imagination, the seat of understandings based on empathy, analogy, the ability to conjure the evidence of "things not seen," to quote some more scripture. It is for this reason that I shudder at our prospects under the Conservatives, a party who have by their actions demonstrated that they are against the arts, against the life of the imagination. In that respect I would have been glad to have Stéphane Dion as head of the ship of state, or Bloc Québécois leader, Gilles Duceppe, or Elizabeth May. (I am not so sure of Jack Layton in his new Car Salesman guise.) They strike me as people who can envision things. Perhaps they will see the virtue of imagining the rapid downfall of this new minority Conservative government and of engineering an election that will address the real issues – and they are many, and formidable.