Canada · Critics · Culture · Economy · Education · Halifax · Politics · Sociology

Whose issues are they anyway?

It seems to me that during elections, politicians and their parties are often too busy crafting and creating the issues for their constituents, rather than trying to get a deep understanding of what the issues actually are and addressing them accordingly.

A perfect example of this is often platformed emergency room overcrowding issue which almost invariably ends up on some party’s agenda.

On the surface it appears that this is an issue for the People; many have complained about waiting hours and hours in the ER for care. I, myself, have complained about waiting hours and hours in the ER for care.  It is indeed an issue worth bringing into the debate.

But the problem comes when the politicians state “We are going to fix ER overcrowding by increasing capacity in ER.”  The issue of ER care gets framed and defined as being a problem going on within the walls of our hospitals.  “The problem is with ER overcrowding is ER capacity, so our party’s plan to increase ER capacity is the best way to address the issue.”

But if the party that decided to take the ER issue as one of their own had actually talked to the people who were complaining about their trip to the ER they might begin to understand that increasing ER capacity will not fix the problem of ER overcrowding.

If they talked to the people about their ER experiences, they would hear “I had to go to the ER because I don’t have a family doctor and I was worried that the cold my daughter had was serious” “I had to go to the ER because I am too poor to get my teeth looked after properly and I got an abscess that was causing me unbearable pain” “I had to go to the ER because I was having a mental breakdown and did not have anywhere else to go.”  All of a sudden, the issue of ER overcrowding is better defined… The ER issue is not simply about capacity.  It is an issue because of a fundamental problem with health care delivery.  The majority of people who go to the ER do not have sufficient ongoing health support in their lives, and are going to the ER for non-emergency reasons because they have no where else to turn.  Minor health issues become emergencies because of a lack of ongoing health support.

If you want to make an issue out of ER overcrowding, wouldn’t it make more sense to first try and address the reasons why our ERs are overcrowded in the first place?

Politically, I suppose it makes sense to simplify our most complex issues into soundbites.  The predominant assumption by campaign machines is that voters are not capable of understanding the complexity of it all… if you use too many words, statistics and facts in your political campaigns people’s eyes start to glaze over and they stop listening.  You want to appear to be smart, but not so smart that you are no longer a politician of the people.  Federally, Iggy is going to have problems with this in the next election… Provincially, none of our leaders seem to have this problem.

It is far easier for them to  take the issue and define it for us in a way that is simple and shallow.  It is far easier for them to recycle ideas from previous election campaigns.  It is far easier for them to act as though 20th century politics, policy and thinking are still relevant and essential for governance in the 21st century.

But I shouldn’t be too hard on our leaders.  Most of them simply don’t have the capacity themselves to understand what really needs to be done to fundamentally fix all the problems in our society.  They are graduates of business, political science, and public relations  programs.  The majority of their education and experience is rooted in how to make the message palpable… how to sell it in soundbites and how to form and create public opinion.  These are how our politicians are educated rather than on how to listen to the rhythm of the street and incorporate it into the symphony of governance, on how to understand the reality of the issues and put it into policy with teeth, on how to be compassionate and understanding of the struggles of their constituents.

In our era of information overload, our leaders are struggling to make sense of it all.  They turn to census data and research that is usually outdated by the time it becomes public.  They rely on the traditional media to deliver their message, which has the attention span of a gnat and requires them to speak in soundbites.  The rapid pace of reality does not often stop for a critical analysis and deconstruction of the issues (which in the end is just as well because if we did, we’d realize that the whole structure needs to be broken down and build back up for the 21st century).

We assume that our politicians are the experts in managing and delivering services to ourselves and our communities because they seem to have ideas on how to address the issues.  This is a valid assumption if we accept their issues as the ones which need to be addressed.

But from where I stand, based on the tired old political platforms and policy offerings from all of our major parties in this campaign, shallowly addressing the issues for the sake of political expediency… none of our current leaders are qualified for the job.  None of our politicians are experts on our issues.  And none of our politicians are going to fix the problems we face in these turbulent times.

Instead, all of our leaders are playing the same old games, regurgitating the same old lines around the same old issues, and attacking each others ideas in the same old way.  No wonder there is so much political apathy in our province.  No wonder the disenfranchised say, these leaders don’t speak to me or reflect my values and issues.  There is nothing there to inspire us to believe that things will be different under this party or that.  There is nothing there to inspire us to have faith that our leaders “get it” and will do everything they can to “fix it” regardless of how unpopular or flaky the solutions might sound.

If voters started hearing politicians making statements on their issues: about how they work two jobs and still need to go to the food bank once a month, about how they are uncertain how they can afford to have their tooth aches fixed, about how they have to travel too far to access essential services, about how they want to make home improvements for energy efficiency but don’t have the capital to do it, about how they are silently suffering with depression and anxiety because it all just seems to much and there is not enough support to help them get through the day… Then, and only then, will they be more inclined to start *really* giving a damn about who wins the next election.


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