#243 Mark & Steve – Politics and Democracy, Part 1
Mark: Hello and welcome back to EnglishLingQ.
Mark here with Steve.
Steve: Hello there.
Mark: We're here ready to go for another episode.
Steve: You know, of course, we like to talk about things that are topical because, certainly, I find when I learn languages I learn about more things than just the language. In fact, I learn best when I'm learning something else or if I'm enjoying a book or learning about the history of a country and so forth. So, since we live here, we can talk at least a bit about the most recent event here of interest to people who live here in Vancouver, British Columbia, was our Provincial Election.
We had an election yesterday. An interesting side note, I saw an article I was reading in the news this morning talking about how voter turnout was the lowest ever or lower than last time. It was 51% or whatever it was and then the very next comment was, “it was a tremendous result” or something by the guy who won.
Mark: So it just seemed like that was tied into the lowest turnout ever, what a tremendous result. It just seemed funny to me. I don't know why turnout keeps going down, but…
Steve: I think there are a number of reasons. One is that the system that we have there's a lot about it that's not very attractive.
Steve: There is watching our politicians in our House of Parliament yakking at each other, getting all worked up about things that don't matter, being very partisan. You know we have a situation in our Federal Parliament where they're attacking one Member of Parliament because her family mistreated some immigrant Pilipino nannies. I mean it's a dispute between this family and their nannies. It's not a major political issue and yet it's taking up all kinds of time in Parliamentary discussions, so I think a lot of this turns voters off.
Mark: Because politicians don't act on their own principles. It's always about posturing and showing how, in this case, pro immigrant or looking out for the little guy or look at me. Oh, how could you? That's horrible.
Steve: Or attacking the other.
Mark: It's all about posturing so that you get votes the next time around rather than, gee, I'd really like to see this change happen. That really does not seem to be a big part of…
Steve: Mind you, it's very difficult to say what change should happen. You know I was watching one of the ads on TV and the head of one of the parties – head of the more socialist party – what's her name again?
Mark: I can't remember…Carol James.
Steve: She was saying we have to make sure that our policies just don't favor one group that our policies have to favor all British Columbians. Well that's completely ridiculous. Every policy is going to favor some people over other people.
Steve: And the job of the politicians is kind of to sort out…I mean they have their favorite group. The socialists will tend to favor the unionized worker, particularly the public sector union employees, and, to some extent, the more conservative or centrist party will try to favor the business community, but still have to pander to these other organized groups. It's all about balancing these things. I mean, yeah, if, on the one hand, one group wants more free medicine…like right now we have a healthcare system, but you pay for a portion of your medical costs. If someone says we want that all to be free, well, someone else has got to pay for that and that's going to be the taxpayer and that's going to be overwhelmingly people who earn more money. So, whatever you do, it's always a matter of balancing off different people's interests. You can't just have something that everybody says that's great, I like it. It doesn't exist, you know?
Steve: Most of their slogans are so ridiculous.
Mark: Well, speaking of that particular party, I have to say I was astounded by their advertising that was just so completely dishonest. Whether you agree with that party's principles or not, I think anyone on the fence seeing that ad…and the party in power has been in power for, I don't know, eight years or something like that and this party is trying to take over or overthrow them. They said, you know, eight years of fewer hospitals. I mean stuff that nobody is aware of, is probably untrue; they probably twisted some facts somewhere. But it's not like these topics have been in the news, they just pull this stuff sort of out of nowhere. They had a list of eight things that this terrible government has been doing.
Steve: Well, that's right.
Mark: I don't think that's true. I'm not aware of any of these issues.
Steve: You have less money, fewer hospital beds, no money spent on education, all of which is not true. Plus, he's dishonest and he stole money from you and all of this stuff. So then, okay, but what are you proposing?
Mark: To me it was so not believable.
Mark: Okay, well now everything you say is then suspect.
Mark: I'm sure he's done some stupid things. I mean I know he's done stupid things and things that have proven to be the wrong thing to do. Talk about those, but the minute you start, essentially, making things up then it just totally discredits everything you say.
Steve: Anyway… But it's not just them, all the parties do that.
Mark: Oh, I know.
Steve: But it's interesting. So it's not a great system. The other thing is, of course, people don't understand many of the issues. I mean they have these surveys: Do you think the government is doing a good job in terms of fighting the economic crisis? Well I don't think the best experts know how best to fight the economic crisis.
Steve: What possible chance does the average person have? If you asked him, how is the local hockey team doing, he might have an idea, but, how are we doing vis-à-vis the economic crisis, he hasn't a clue. And a good example of that was this issue that we had a referendum on, which was whether we should change our method of counting the votes. The system we have right now is what they call a “first past the post”. So you have these individual electoral districts, which are called “ridings”, and in each riding the different parties will put up representatives and one of them will win.
Steve: So if there are 75 or however many ridings in British Columbia then there will be one representative from each riding.
Mark: Each party in each riding.
Steve: Oh, okay. In the election there'll be a representative from each riding.
Mark: Oh, yeah, right.
Steve: But in the House of Parliament you will have on representative. It might be from Party A or from Party B or it could be an independent, but only one per riding.
Steve: So they came up with this complicated deal where you had your first choice and your second choice. I didn't understand it and I read quite well and I'm actually interested in politics, I couldn't understand it.
Mark: And made an effort to understand it and I did the same.
Steve: I made an effort.
Mark: I watched…they had some video, a cartoon video. I guess they were trying to dumb it down…
Mark: …for the great unwashed. Okay, I could understand it, but it's so convoluted most people aren't going to watch the video or read the explanation. Even if they do it's so convoluted it's hard to understand and, more importantly, all the different machinations of swapping. Okay, you vote and you can vote for a first, second, third, fourth choice or just one person. If you vote for multiple people those votes eventually can filter down to those people and those people can get at it. I mean it was just…there's no way a system that complicated could ever be implemented.
Steve: But you know the way they came up with that is in itself an interesting example of the problems with democracy. And don't get me wrong, I think democracy is the best system because there is no other system.
Steve: The other system is to simply say we want the smartest guy possible to run everything.
Steve: Okay. That doesn't work, because he will do things that people don't like and if he has all the power then that will not be good in the long run. I mean I definitely believe in the importance of decentralizing decision making. Make it confusing, have a lot of people, whatever they do it doesn't matter, don't have a totalitarian system. It has led to some pretty disastrous results, so democracy works, but it has its problems. This process was quite a good example. What they did was they selected, I don't know, 500 people at random in the Province, like just names out of a telephone book.
Steve: And these people were then asked to form a special consultative committee or assembly, so that's so far so good. You've selected people at random and they're all keen to do their bit for society and come up with a better way to elect representatives, but, then, the intellectuals come along. Because this is not something that somebody drew up while sitting in a meeting…
Steve: …some guy who runs a gas station or a housewife or something. So these intellectuals, these academics come in, here's this one convoluted system, here's another system, here's another system. And they have day after day to sit there and talk about it and pretty soon they're persuaded that this extremely complicated system is good and then they vote on it and they decide on it. The interesting thing is that those people who went through that whole process were very disappointed that there were people who didn't like their recommendation. Like they felt that because they had gone through this whole process, whatever they recommended, that people should just buy it. Well, no, people don't.
Mark: And I guess it needed a 60% approval from the referendum and got like 30% or something.
Steve: It was more. It was more like 38% or something.
Mark: Oh, was it?
Steve: Yeah. So I mean that's very difficult; to sell a new concept. Beside which the only thing that people did understand was I will no longer have one representative from my riding. So that there are people that understand that if I live in this riding and if I have a serious problem with the government I can go to my representative. That much we understand. Whether we vote or not, if I'm really upset about something I know where his office or her office is, I can go there and complain.
Steve: Now they would have larger districts with multiple representatives and it just confused people, so they said no thank you.
Mark: For the second time, so that's dead now.
Steve: It's dead, yeah.
Steve: But it is…anyway…
Mark: I think part of the problem with politics is that, in most people's mind, it attracts low-quality people because I don't think it's that attractive a position. You're in the public eye; every move you make is watched. In British Columbia, where most people live in Vancouver, you'd have to move to Victoria where the Parliament sits.
Steve: Or Ottawa, if it's federal, which is a long way away.
Mark: Nobody wants to do that. You have to give up whatever job you happen to be doing now.
Steve: You have to go around and shake hands everywhere; go to business meetings.
Mark: Glad-handing everybody, useless meetings.
Steve: It's a thankless job.
Mark: It's a thankless job. Somewhere along the line…I mean maybe it's always been a thankless job, but it doesn't attract…
Steve: Maybe we should allow them to take bribes. I mean sure. You know I want you to do this for me and here's some money.
Steve: Which, at a certain level, is what happens because the politicians want your support, they understand that you may provide them maybe with a vote or volunteer or give them money, so there is this sense of you do something for me I do something for you.
Mark: Well because of the party donations that go on.
Steve: Well, that's right.
Mark: I mean it's not quite giving bribes.
Steve: It's not quite a bribe, but it is to some extent. I mean in all countries...
Mark: I think, yeah, I mean the more they could…you were talking about this the other day, too, about selecting people at random to be for a four-year term. But, again, well it's like jury duty, you know. Okay, now I have a four-year stint as a politician I didn't ask for.
Steve: Well you should be allowed to decline, but it's not a practical solution. But I have a friend who wrote a book on the subject, suggesting that all of our members of Parliament should be selected at random. But what would tend to happen is certain people would take over. I think they would, you know…
Mark: Why is that?
Steve: Well within that group.
Mark: Certain people.
Steve: Certain people who were selected would be more…they would all be…let's say they had 300 people selected…
Mark: Well, sure, in any group certain people are going to rise to the top and become leaders, but because you know you're there for a short time you don't have to be worried about making sure I get reelected.
Mark: You're there trying to do the right thing and you have 500 other people or whatever the number is who are randomly selected who are there to also try and do the right thing. Even if you do rise to become one of the leaders and you're trying to promote something stupid, I mean not only everybody in the room, but the people in their riding are going to be letting them know.
Steve: The problem is you would have no control. Of those 500 people it could turn out that a significant number are communist, fascist, this that and the other and they could take over the thing and now you have no control. So, this way, you vote in a certain party which stands for certain principles…
Mark: Yeah, that's true.
Steve: …and if you don't like what they're doing you're going to kick them out next time. Whereas, this random thing, you're not responsible to anybody.
Steve: You don't like what I'm doing, I'm going to make as much money as I can while I'm here and then, you know, I don't know. I think the system we have, with all its faults, is probably as good as we're going to get.