12 September 2003

The importance of being Ernie

I decided to attend the rally at Hamilton District Christian High School last evening, which was graced by the presence of our premier, Ernie Eves. The Reformed Christian community turned out in good numbers, and I saw quite a few people I hadn't seen in a very long time.

The event was billed as a tax credit rally, referring to the tax credit for parents of students in independent schools enacted by the Conservatives under their previous leader, Mike Harris, which is opposed by the other two parties. It was carefully staged, with people urging us to get up out of the bleachers and crowd around the podium so that Eves would be surrounded by supporters on camera. And clearly there were many supporters there. I couldn't help but notice some sign-bearing high schoolers at the front who were eating up his every word.

However, more than one person present expressed to me the concern that we were all being co-opted into throwing our support behind the governing party over this single issue when we might have reason to approach the Eves government with more caution. I could not disagree with this assessment.

This is one of the ironies that I experience as an academic political scientist. I love the study of politics, but I find voting a deeply unsatisfying act. Inevitably one is forced to choose a candidate and party on the basis of a few issues close to the heart while swallowing a lot of other unpalatable stuff in the process. If I were to vote for the Progressive Conservatives this time around, I would be doing so in part because I am a strong supporter of parental choice in education. Yet I dislike the party's reflexive deregulating and privatizing economic policies which assume that there is no genuine public interest, but only the sum total of private interests.

This is one of the reasons why I support the adoption of proportional representation. It is much more likely than our current first-past-the-post system to bring to the fore principled parties based on a coherent view of the place of politics in the world. Short of this we are saddled with pragmatic parties that try to galvanize popular support over discrete issues with no clear basis in political principles. This makes for less than fully responsible politics.

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