The phrase: “All politics is local” is a common phrase in North American politics. The former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neill is most closely associated with this phrase. It is based on the thinking that a politician’s success is directly tied to the ability to understand and influence the issues of their constituents.
Mr. O’Neill was an American institution, a member of the U.S. Congress for 40 years and Speaker of the House for 10 years, even named his book after this phrase: All Politics is Local: And Other Rules of the Game
Then why does it feel that the politicians are so far away?
Federal politicians seem like distant entities that are caught only on occasional sound bites and photo ops with their own leaders – with their own leaders.
Most Canadians would be hard pressed to names more than a handful of cabinet ministers, in their current portfolios. Sure we might recognize some faces of long serving and higher profile ministers – but matching them with their current posts is another task. The political reporters would take umbrage with this comment; of course it is true that their significance is justified by trying to make these issues matter.
Naming provincial members of the national assembly, or their equivalent in other provinces, is not a significantly less challenging task. You may know your local member, especially if your riding has not changed its boundaries and you have a long serving member, but do you know those around you?
And if “all politics is local” why are the municipal elections in cities like Montreal more and more confusing? Districts and communities people can relate to, boroughs, not so much. Borough mayors – really?
So say you want to get something done in your community who do you turn to? Welcome to the federal system shuffle. It seems that you often cannot get there from here, no matter where the here is!
So what to do?
- Simplify and align – try to get communities aligned so that they are more or less served within the same community for municipal, provincial and federal elections. Certainly federal ridings are larger, but try to include a whole sub unit instead of bureaucratic hiving, splicing and dicing to make them fit a population idea.
- Try to get people from the riding elected. Enough of parachuting of lawyers (typically) from party central.
- Make fundraising a local endeavor – get rid of those $10,000 plate rubber chicken with shrimp dinners that are nothing but corporate influence peddling
- Bring politicians in this century by encouraging and rewarding those that do publish and respond on social media.
- Coffee shops, diners and libraries – use these facilities to ask for meetings with politicians, where questions can be asked and answers expected. Coffee shops gained popularity not only as a place to have a cup of something warm and slightly exotic, but also as a place of discussion, conversation, discourse and, yes, debate.
Yes, this might give rise to rhetoric and some frayed nerves, but it will lend itself to people meeting people and the definition of politics is from the Greek: πολιτικός politikos, meaning “of, for, or relating to citizens.” As it is citizens that vote we will accept that instead of people, but let’s not forget we are people first.
As we are not expecting an election for the next 12 months or so, now would be a good time to get to know our local politicians. Hey politico, come on down and I will even buy you a cup!
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