Shake off clichés

by Alice Klein

It’s often said that Stephen Harper is playing with the politics of fear. But even more profoundly, political players on both sides are lulling Canadians to sleep with an utterly false sense of security.

Harper likes to boast about the country’s great economic fundamentals, but anyone who has looked at the price of gas today knows that we are definitely not okay.

We’re already feeling energy inflation ramping up with every trip to the grocery store, and there’s no ceiling in sight.

Republican-inspired populist politics is going places we compassionate Canadians never imagined.

And Mayor Rob Ford is showing how it’s done. Five months after sweeping into office, Ford has cleaned out the city’s cupboards, and soon the furniture will be out the door.

In Harper’s case, the affronts to evidence-based public policy and the country’s ethical and democratic underpinnings are so numerous, we can hardly keep track. Meanwhile, pundits fret that there are no issues. Actually, there couldn’t be more issues in this election campaign.

The voting opportunity before us is a precious citizen moment. We cannot afford to waste it. But partisan progressives are once again trying to lull us into the same old thinking and voting that has empowered Harper for the last five years. When does the head come out of the sand?

But there is great cause for hope. We’re in the middle of a new citizens’ movement popping up all over the country that is preaching to the unconverted for a change. And it might just turn things around.

My particular contribution is with Project Democracy.

Voters can use this website to keep from accidentally electing a Conservative.

The riding predictions you see on projectdemocracy.ca are based on a model that uses the 2008 election results (with some exceptions noted in specific ridings) and current polling to help voters make informed choices on May 2.

It must be remembered that there is a margin of error in all public opinion research, and projectdemocracy.ca uses public opinion polling to make its predictions.

But knowledge is power even if it isn’t infallible.

I use the term “cooperative voting” to describe the kitchen wisdom of this informed way of working together to get more seats for each opposition party.

The site is fundraising now to do in-depth local polling in hard-to-call races as they emerge over the last days of the campaign.

“Cooperation” is actually the hopeful watchword of the whole new movement that is emerging online and on the ground.

It is a practical and engaging movement to encourage Canadians – citizens and politicians alike – to work together to create a people-centred, environmentally conscious political landscape that loves and nurtures democracy.

Projectdemocracy.ca is just one expression of this citizen-spawned self-seeding. Together, these might change the game by motivating the wider civic engagement we need to win back our country’s democratic process. That’s the antidote to the partisan chest-thumping that has kept voters at home in droves in elections past.

The completely non-partisan leadnow.ca is out there beating the drum for the youth vote, and at the same time promoting a deceptively simple yet profound platform for progressives to rally around. Through an open-call, online participatory process, leadnow.ca has created a declaration we can sign onto. “We call for political cooperation to build a stronger democracy that protects our environment and creates economic opportunity while increasing equality,” it reads in part. That’s the election issue right there.

That isn’t all they’re doing. Check out all the vote mobs across the country. Leadnow.ca’s campaign to stir the youth vote will put a smile on your day. But don’t underestimate them. The Conservatives sure didn’t when they tried to shut down campus voting at Guelph University last week.

When Elections Canada announced there would be no more special campus balloting, the Conservatives did their own happy dance. But the activists at leadnow.ca have more surprises in store.

Then there’s Pair Vote, which provides the quintessential new dating service for cooperative voters. If you are considering voting for a second-choice candidate for the sake of blocking a Conservative win, pairvote.ca will find a voting mate for you. That partner will vote for your favourite party in his or her own riding right back at you.

And here’s to all the groups and individuals like shitharperdid.com who are putting the “ha” in Harper to far better use.

Opportunity is knocking. If we’re willing to change our partisan ways, we may be able to surprise the pundits, the politicians and the pollsters.

This article was first published on nowtoronto.com