Every now and then, at a really boring party, there will be that one gutsy person who tries to get everyone to start dancing. Trying to liven things up, they wildly bust out the moves in isolation and one of two things usually happens next. Either most people will stick to the corners of the room, laugh awkwardly and wonder if there’s an open bar they didn’t know about, or the whole place goes nuts.
Oddly, when it comes to party membership in Canada, Canadians will react in both ways. Every time there is a leadership race or an election, research shows that there is a cyclical surge in party memberships. Like in the 2003 Liberal Leadership race when Liberal membership rates increased by a staggering 390%. However it’s also been proven that only about 500,000 of Canadians belong to a political party, of which 70% contribute less than an hour a month of their time. Essentially, Canadians are just not joining political parties, and when they do, they’re not getting actively involved. Shockingly, of the few who are members of a party, 75% feel that they don’t play an important role in defining their party’s the national policy platform. Overall, the evidence suggests that when our political parties are dancing around asking us to join in, we sometimes do, but almost always don’t.
All this doesn’t necessarily mean that Canadians are politically complacent or apathetic (look to voter turnout rates for that), because many Canadians have decided that joining an advocacy or interest group is a better way to have their voices heard. Alternatively, some who are informed and active feel as though they can’t neatly fit into the ideological box outlined by the major parties, which is completely fair. No I don’t blame Canadians, I blame the parties.
Parties are not doing a good enough job attracting supporters and they are largely ignoring their members when it comes to policy ideas. In fact, the only time they pay attention to their members at all is when it comes to money. Frequent and competitive elections cost big bucks and parties respond by increasingly targeting supporters with deep pockets, which inevitably leads to a biased agenda setting process. Meanwhile regular members are encouraged to buy tickets to party conventions to voice their opinions, which routinely cost 400$ and upwards. Being a party member also means getting endlessly spammed with ridiculously partisan charged mail begging for donations. For only a few dollars you can help the Conservatives hold off the ‘NDP tax on breathing’! Or maybe you’d like to ‘bring down Harper and release a pack of rabid, man-eating German shepherds into the Senate’ by funding the NDP?
Canadian parties are essential in aggregating our interests and translating them into policy yet they are being ignored, circumvented and dismissed. We either need parties to change how they interact and attract members or we need new parties altogether. So won’t you please join me in my dance as I demand better from our parties? Our democracy could do with a bit of livening up.
(Featured photo: B Rosen, Creative Commons, Flickr)
Always Eat Before Going to a Bad Party