How do you vote?
A story surfaced about three hours ago on the Internet, and has already garnered quite a bit of attention. As part of his tour of the North, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was documented riding an ATV in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT.
You can watch the video here, c/o the Toronto Sun‘s David Akin.
What’s really getting the media’s attention is his response to a cheeky question as to whether he has a licence: “I make the rules.”
I can see why this statement is getting a lot of press time from the media. Those in the anti-Harper camp might think, “Oh, that’s just what power-hungry Harper would say.” I’ve heard that a lot of journalists on the Hill wouldn’t consider themselves Conservatives. Is this true? Did the media just notice the comment because they lean left?
However, others (I mean most Canadians) will probably just think that Harper’s adventure is cute and charming, and that he’s making a good public appearance after recent criticisms on the census issue and the scrutiny regarding the long-gun registry. Harper sang “With a Little Help From My Friends” in October 2009 before a live audience, capturing the attention of millions of Canadians. Heck, even I was moved and amused.
Make of his statement and actions what you will, but think: why do politicians do this? Why do they make public appearances and ride ATVs and serve pancakes to kids and kiss babies? It’s to make you remember, “Oh hey, they’re human too.”
Now, this sounds really silly and obvious. Of course Stephen Harper is a human. Of course he does everyday things like shopping and gardening and taking his kids to the park and whatnot. But sometimes we forget—and that’s why we are intrigued when he sings The Beatles and dances with the locals. That’s precisely how politicians want us to feel—moved. They want us to see them in a good light. Most Canadians don’t know all of the issues when they vote, and some of them don’t know why they vote Conservative or Liberal or NDP—maybe their parents voted that way, or maybe they think Jack Layton is handsome—and this is exactly who politicians are banking on: people who don’t fully comprehend the issues.
I think this is sad, really; in my Political Science class last month we talked about how most Canadians didn’t understand how the Canadian political system operates. An example is Stephen Harper’s national address in 2008 in the wake of a coalition government. Those who understand Canadian politics knew that Harper was trying to appeal to Canadians who didn’t understand what was going on by trying to paint the Liberal-NDP coalition as undemocratic—when in fact it is perfectly democratic and acceptable in Canadian politics.
What do I think about Harper’s ATV ride? I think it’s fun and entertaining—but it doesn’t change how I feel about the government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long form census.
It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t.
As a side note, in a few weeks I’ll be taking POLI 385: Public Opinion and Elections with Richard Johnston. The topics include gems such as “Parties and Issues in Voters’ Minds: Are Voters Fools?” and “Do Campaigns Matter?”
Perhaps I’ll be able to update this post in a few months.