“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” – Edmond Burke
Ontario residents vote for their provincial representatives tomorrow, June 12th. (Here’s how, by the way!) The idea of representing another person’s (or group’s) interests is tricky at the best of times, and it’s easy to be cynical: do our leaders really want to act in our best interests? Could they, even if they wanted to? Aren’t there just too many interests in the first place?
We could throw in the towel and leave politics to the politicians. This seems to be what Edmond Burke was getting at (see above quotation), arguing that his role as a politician was to do his job without accountability to the wealthy landowning men who elected him. However, many of the hardworking men and women who make up our government today would tell you that Mr. Burke was dead wrong.
Yes, we live in an incredibly diverse community, and no, we don’t all see eye to eye, sometimes on very basic questions. (And yes, it’s probably also true that there are some politicians with questionable intentions.) But today’s politicians are people who have decided to dedicate a huge part of their life to public service. They have a genuine interest and passion for listening to people and trying to plot a course to a better future for all of us. That is to say, they try to respond to their constituents and to public opinion.
Who Will Listen?
The problem is not that politicians never listen, but maybe, rather, that they are most likely to listen to the loudest voices. The loudest (and, relatedly, most persuasive) voices typically belong to the most privileged members of our community. We cannot buy full page ads in the Globe and Mail, or commercial time during the Stanley Cup, but my experience is that we should not discount the power of an email, phone call or letter as a means to shape political debate. By putting our views out there in letters to the editor, radio call in shows, impromptu debates around the kitchen table over dinner, letters and calls to your local politician, newspaper articles, things we post to our Facebook pages and other social media (if you are so inclined) we all get a bigger piece of the picture and take one step closer to a better community for all of us.
Filling in the Blanks
One way we have been trying to engage with people at the Food Hamper Program for the upcoming election is to provide a platform for them to share their experiences and discuss how they overlap with government services and programs. We supplied our patrons with cards with four sentences on them, encouraged them to fill them out and committed to sharing the results with all of the candidates in the two electoral districts we serve hampers to: Kitchener-Centre and Kitchener-Waterloo (which we have already done).
Here are the four sentences:
- Living on Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)* is…
- Every day I struggle with…
- If elected, please remember…
- I want to say…
A few people respectfully declined to fill out the card. One woman shared that she doesn’t vote, because she feels ignored and undervalued, and didn’t believe that a project like this made any difference. Following her comments, another woman, relatively new to Canada, took and filled out her card. “It’s small, but who knows, we should do it.” For the most part, patrons responded enthusiastically. Their comments provide a brief glimpse into the struggles that people face every day in our communities. See below for a sample of their responses. (more…)