'None of them speak my language': Frustration with politicians echoes across Canada: Peter Mansbridge
Talking with average Canadians reveals an undercurrent of feeling ahead of Monday’s federal election
Too often in past elections, we have focused on what the parties feel the issues are or what the media conclude the issues are.
That's not a criticism as much as it is a reflection of the reality of covering these often crazy races from one policy announcement to another, from one manufactured crisis to another and from one supposed knockout blow to another.
Left in the wake of all this, of course, are the voters. What do they want to talk about?
So this year, from the luxury of semi-retirement, I did something different — for me at least. I let the voters tell me what was on their mind. It was a sobering experience. I travelled to, among other places, a stock car race in Hope, B.C.; a farmer's market in Fredericton; a rodeo in Binbrook, Ont.; a Greek pastry shop in Montreal and an arts fair in Hamilton.
I didn't tell anyone I was coming. I just arrived, set up two chairs and invited people to sit down and talk. And they did. A lot. Sometimes they even lined up to talk. I rarely had to wait.
Many of the issues were familiar: climate change, pipelines, health care, Indigenous affairs, jobs, education costs.
But there was an undercurrent running through most of their comments. It didn't matter what their issue was or which party they were likely to support.
In a word, and to be kind in my choice of that word, it was "frustration." Not frustration with the times, but frustration with the people, the politicians to be specific, who were fighting to represent them.
When I walked through an outdoor market in Kelowna, B.C., one Wednesday morning in September, I met Mike Elliot. "Mike the musician" we called him because he was playing guitar with a little band, giving entertainment to those buying fresh fruit and vegetables.
I was unsure about Mike at first. He seemed a little like that odd duck you encounter at times like this. Kind of unfocused, or so it seemed. Bit of an anarchist, or so it appeared. Until I started talking to him and listened beyond the message track he'd developed over the years.
In fact, the more we talked, the more sense he started to make, and the more in sync he was with a lot of more, what should I say, average, reasonable people I met across the country.
Mike is part of a band called The Tree Huggers that travels across Canada. He's far from your typical Canadian following the election, but he sure captured a feeling I would keep encountering.
Here are a few moments from a much longer conversation, beginning after he told me he's not going to vote when Canadians go to the polls on Oct. 21.
Mansbridge: "OK, so what's the point of not voting?"
Mike: "None of them speak my language. None of them support me and none of them say anything I have to say, none of them. So why would I vote for the least evil, you know? That's what it's come down to, which is really sad."
I asked why didn't he run himself.
Mike: "No way. I feel in this society we suppress rebellion and that turns into violence because these kids aren't being listened to. So they break windows when the G20 summit happened and I was tempted when I was young to do all that kind of stuff and I'm like … that doesn't actually do anything. Just makes you look like an idiot."
Mansbridge: "But I mean, they're saying, he won't run himself. He doesn't like anybody who is running. Doesn't like any of the parties. So what do you want? How do you change the system?"
Mike: "Yeah, that's a great question, something I'm still working on, but obviously one thing is community self-love. We don't love ourselves enough. If we loved ourselves enough, we wouldn't be reaching out to people to answer all these questions for us and understand all these things we don't understand. I know that didn't exactly answer what we need to do but I would say in summary, go back to nature."
Mike describes why he doesn't vote
I showed Mike a list of five issues and asked him to tell me which was the most important to him personally.
Mike: "Climate change is pretty important. Pipelines tie into that. Health care ties into that … without the climate, we don't have anything, so climate. If we're not alive, if we're not taking care of our mother, then we don't have anything. I would say climate change."
I asked him if anybody is saying anything to him that makes sense on climate change.
Mike: "Absolutely not. They're all trying to use these things like: 'Oh, let's just make it a little less bad.' You want to stop. You know, if you're feeling bad, you have to stop doing the things that make you feel bad…. There's no just kind of doing it. You … better stop doing it."
But there's a dilemma with Mike's argument, and I told him that. If you want change, you have to participate. You have to be there.
I've seen a lot of bad politicians. But deep down, I have a lot of time for politicians because they actually believe, at least initially. When they first enter the arena, I think they believe that there's something they can do to make our lives better.
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We may not agree with what they say. But that's their belief. That takes courage, and they go through a lot to win a seat, getting the nomination, fighting other people from other parties and laying their whole lives out in front of everybody.
But they know that they've got to take part in the process to even have a chance to do something.
I really enjoyed the back and forth with Mike. And I learned a lot more than I thought I would when the conversation started, because I do think he echoes many of the comments I was hearing from one side of the country to the other.
For many, even those who will vote and know how they'll vote, they're frustrated at what they fear will come to pass when the new government is formed.
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Mike's afraid people like him will be forgotten, the promises made will be ignored, any bond formed will be broken.
Not everyone is so pessimistic about the future relationship between the politicians and the people. They want to believe that this time a new crop of elected officials will prove the doubters like Mike wrong.
They don't have long to wait now.
- The way you see it with Peter Mansbridge airs on CBC-TV on Friday at 9 p.m. It also airs on CBC News Network Friday at 10 p.m. ET, Saturday at 10 p.m. ET and Sunday at 10 p.m. ET.