Right in the centre - The mediocre and the excellent


By Ken Waddell

The Neepawa Banner

As this column is being written Tuesday morning, the federal government is scheduled to introduce the budget. Also scheduled for Tuesday night is the introduction of the Town of Neepawa budget. Both will generate a bit of interest but not nearly as much as they should.

Federal and provincial budgets generate a fair bit of buzz but municipal budgets often pass without a word of public input. That’s a sad situation. Budgets (and elections) should generate a lot of interest but in Canada, and in many of the First World countries, elections, budgets and politics generate little interest. The level of passivity is appalling. In Neepawa, there will be a by-election this year. There should be two, three or even four people willing to run for council but it’s unlikely there will be that level of participation. Many of our municipal council seats are filled by acclamation. All the Town of Neepawa councillors went in last year by acclamation. Complacency ran so rampant in North-Cypress-Langford they had to appoint two councillors.

Why do budgets, politics and elections generate such a low level of interest? In contrast, in countries where voters have to walk past armed soldiers, and in some case armed rebels, to cast a ballot, the voter turnout is 80 per cent or even higher. We are lucky to get 50 per cent turnout. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

For one thing, Canadians are spoiled, spoiled absolutely rotten. We are self-satisfied, willing to accept the mediocre when we could achieve excellence. We don’t work hard enough or smart enough at our work, certainly don’t work hard enough at schools and university and don’t demand enough of ourselves, our politicians and civil service. Some of our businesses reflects the same attitude. Pardon me for picking on the banks for a minute, but when was the last time you phoned a local bank branch and actually talked to a local bank staffer. When you phone a bank, you get an answering machine even during business hours. If you finally wade your way through voice mail purgatory, you get a call centre in New Brunswick or Calgary and they don’t have a hot clue what you want or need. I’m not talking about credit card call centres, but about day to-day banking needs. Sorry bankers, but I could cite many other business situations where the complacency, arrogance and laziness of politics have permeated businesses as well.

Canadians think about politics about seven seconds a week. It’s been proven in surveys. Some people are very actively engaged but the majority of people aren’t. Half of the electorate don’t even vote and that is shameful, absolutely shameful.

The main reason people don’t vote is that they think it isn’t going to change anything. That’s simply not true. Votes change the course of history and can cost millions of lives. Remember Hitler was elected. Former Canadian prime minister, Pierre Trudeau is credited with saying that if you don’t get involved in politics, you will be controlled by those who do. That is so true. 

There is another reason people don’t get involved in municipal politics and that is there’s lot of criticism and very low pay. More importantly, there’s a ton of criticism, occasionally from an electorate that couldn’t be bothered to vote or run but more often criticism is from within. When you get a group of politicians together, you have a room full of egos. It’s not an easy environment.

Even still, the answer is to get involved, be informed and don’t just sit there, do something. Become knowledgable, ask questions, demand excellence, run for office or support someone who will run. Change is possible and excellence can be achieved. It’s there for the asking and to be embraced. You can survive without the fluffy diversions of life long enough to make a difference in your community.