A lot of people are asking me what I thought of the televised debate a few nights back. They seemed surprised when I replied I didn’t see or hear the debate although I had tuned to the channel it was supposed to be on. Couldn’t find a debate, though. Just a bunch of guys and a lady trying to talk over each other’s heads and five TV professionals who had obviously spent more time making sure they looked good on camera than they had on preparing to question would-be prime ministers on their political intent.
Anyone interested in Canada’s role in finding solutions to major national problems while assisting the rest of the world to live in peace and harmony internationally must have been profoundly disappointed with the chattering babble the cream of this year’s crop of nation savers had to offer.
Other questions asked by friends, even total strangers, are “who do you think is going to win the election?” and “who are you voting for?” Strange questions to ask in a society where the way an individual marks a ballot is a carefully guarded secret guaranteeing only I and God know the answer.
In a democracy, we are quite determined about the confidentiality of our vote. From the moment we step into the precinct of a voting station to the moment we leave, we are protected from interference from forces that would bend us to their will.
And yet, there are few among us who have not asked a friend, neighbour, or the person sitting next to us on the bus, how they perceive events on the campaign trail and which party they might favour to win the right to govern. In ambitious conversation mode, we might even venture a thought on how we will be voting thus negating all the efforts to keep our vote secret.
These pre-vote days are particularly hazardous for pundits who are expected to guide but should avoid too strong persuasion. Having discovered long ago the perils of trying to steer readers to sensible choices of candidates and parties, I now avoid the arrogant temptation.
I have told before the story of my disastrous attempt to tell voters how they should vote, but it bears repeating. It involved a fellow named Charles Oliver, son of former BC Premier “Honest” John Oliver, the premier who planted the magnificent Copper Beech tree at the rear of the Legislature.
Charles, or “Charlie” as he was fondly known, was Reeve of Penticton from 1931-35 and Mayor from 1957-61. He was a little eccentric and not above arbitrarily adjourning council meetings if decisions were not going his way. I think it was in the civic election of 1959 that Penticton Herald publisher Grev Rowland and yours truly, editor and wielder of the Herald’s mighty 6,000 daily reader editorial sword, decided the city couldn’t stand another two or three years of Charlie.
On voting day, we ran a thundering front-page editorial about vaudeville being dead and telling readers it was time to end “this sorry circus of civic administration.” Our readers’ response to the imperious command that Charlie be dumped was dramatic. When the final count was in on that lesson-learning night, Charlie Oliver had surpassed his closest rival by a three to one vote margin.
So much for the power of the press.
My scars still itch during election campaigns. The temptation is there not just to tell you to vote but suggest how you should. These days, I just scratch the itch and urge only that you vote in good conscience; thoughtfully, proudly, for a cause or candidate in which you can believe. And if your chosen cause or candidate should fail to grasp the brass ring, take comfort in the fact that when things go wrong in Ottawa – as they surely will on occasion – you will be able to say “now you know why I voted” for another candidate.
There are a few things we can be sure of when we select new governments. Whether we elect a minority government or a majority government, and whatever the political stripe, we shall send to Ottawa a majority of good men and women dedicated to public service.
Think about it. It’s a true and comforting fact. Be proud you’re able to participate. Don’t be too righteous, too angry, or too sure your way is the only way. And remember, you don’t have to tell anyone how you intend to vote – not even those nice, polite pollsters who make a decent living selling your answers.