Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Voting Day

I tried to explain the concept of voting to my son on the Metro platform this morning. I explained that as the heads of the household, a mother and father make decisions about things that will affect their children. I then explained that Canada, a concept Jake is gradually learning through exposure to subtle but warm indoctrination from programs like Kids CBC, also requires someone to make decisions from everyone in the country, like a king. He knows the concept of kings, as they have the absolute power that four years olds covet. Tonight he will have a view of how the process takes place when he follows me into the voting booth in a church in NDG that has had its share of denominations as the demographics of the neighbourhood have changed somewhat. I expect him to be intensely bored, but will try to inject some humour into the old proceeding.

At least the campaign was relatively civil. Down South, things are starting to become rather ugly. The Republican party, behind in every poll with one month to go before the election, are using the race card in a very subtle, but ugly way. Knowing that a large number of Americans hold prejudicial views on race that simmer just below the surface of a society committed to brother- and sisterhood, using every possible reference to associate Barack Obama with people of the same skin colour who have carried out objectionable acts is a reckless and nasty replay of the old "red menace" politics of the 1950's. Using his middle name - Hussein - as an indication that he really comes from "somewhere else" panders to the xenophobia implicit in American politics, most recently since the events of September 11, 2001. It's all pretty disgusting, and given a legacy of racial tension and violence associated with it, the Republican candidates are clearly willing to sacrifice social peace to extend the reign of their "kingdom" a little longer. Imagine what will happen if this tone continues in the campaign and the Democrats win by a small margin? Will there be an angry backlast amongst voters ressentful that their country was taken away from them? One hopes not.

Cynics could tell me that since all candidates in the current Canadian election are white and Christian, no such rhetoric is possible. They could also point out the animosity between French and English over the past century and beyond. Still, there was a dignity in the discourse over the past campaign that never ventured beyond the political, and even in the course of history, a candidate's personal life and affiliations have only been used if they were relevant to statements they may have made about the economy or their political integrity. Pierre Elliot Trudeau at the height of linguistic tensions was never called more than a bicultural person letting his English side dominate. One could also argue that the comments made by Jacques Parizeau after the 1995 Referendum on Quebec sovereingty were similary volatile. It seems innocent compared to what we are hearing today from Sarah Palin and John McCain, especially in the context of the relatively low body count due to political rhetoric in Canadian history.

As I sit here impatiently waiting for my boss to finish voting - the polls opened at 9:30 - I am thankful for the inconvenience, and thankful that neither of us, nor the people in our riding, will be casting a ballot out of hate for the the colour of someone's skin.

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