Historians used to have an approach that was called The Great Man Theory. This said that the really powerful motivating factor in history were those individuals, the Great Men (rarely, if ever, was there a Great Woman Theory), who dictated the affairs of their nation, or even of continents. Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, they were the main force behind events, the ones who shaped the destiny of the world.
Then the Marxists came along and denied the old orthodoxy: economics was from where history drew its force. Follow the money, they said, and see how the drive for economic advantage lay behind historical developments through the ages. Then, in the Twentieth Century, there arose a new school which taught Social History, that it was the everyday men and women in society, their interests and activities, that really shaped history. They emphasised the impact the fluctuating price of various crops could have on the rise and fall of nations and governments. To truly understand history in all its complexity, you had to analyse the interaction between the many layers that made up a society: social, political, religious, economic, cultural, and environmental.
A fascinating subject for anyone interested in history, or almost any aspect of past, present, and future society. Oddly enough, I’ve been mulling these ideas over as I glance at the present federal election campaign, wondering which school of thought is reflected in it. Is it a question of the Great Men (and Women) deciding the outcome of the campaign?
It has often been thought that elections are won and lost according to the abilities, charisma, or talents of the Party Leader of the day. People, it is thought, vote for the Prime Minister, really, when they cast their ballot for the local candidate. You vote for the person who represents the party led by your Champion. This is supported by the famous statement by Pierre Trudeau back in the day, that MP’s are nobodies 50 yards off Parliament Hill. Governments and political parties rise and fall along with the popularity, or otherwise, of their Leader.
That may still hold true as a rule. Pierre’s son seems to be dragging the Liberals down along with his personal polling numbers. Annamie Paul appears to be the biggest problem the Greens have in winning votes. At the other end of the scale, Jagmeet Singh is the most popular party leader, according to recent polls, and this has brought the NPD to 20% in the polls, a very positive position, given their traditional achievements.
On the other hand, Erin O’Toole is relatively unknown and unpopular, again according to recent polls, but that hasn’t stopped the Conservatives from closing the gap in numbers between them and the Liberals. Or maybe that’s another indication of the unpopularity of Trudeau: voters are turning away from the Liberals, not so much turning to the Tories out of conviction?
If nothing else, this election campaign is a nice change from the mostly depressing news we’re faced with now. The Afghanistan debacle, which could have been, and was, predicted for years, is simply adding to pandemics, climate disasters, and conspiracy theories that have cursed us so much.
There is also the occasional good news story for us locally. In any other context, aside from a federal election campaign, the election of Lorraine Rekmans as President of the Green Party of Canada would have been a simple choice as a front page story. A local resident, one-time Editor of this very publication, and a woman of tremendous ability and experience, has risen to the head of a major national political party. Excellent news, no matter what your political allegiance may be.
But we are in that context when party political loyalties are paramount for many, and there will be some criticism of having the news about Lorraine splashed over our front page this week. It was a decision that was considered before it was made. The fear was that some might consider publication in such a prominent position as some kind of endorsement of a party. That is not the case. How any one of us choose to use our vote is a personal and private matter, unless we choose to make it public through hosting a campaign sign on our lawn, or making a statement through a letter or article in the newspaper. We all have a right to that choice.
But Lorraine is our neighbour, and a friend to many in this community and beyond. It would be churlish to ignore her achievement out of fear that we might be branded as Greens (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as someone once said). And, as someone even more eloquently wrote: “We live in a political world, under the microscope”. I think it’s right that we honour all those who chose to take part in the mad world of politics. In this Riding, we now have a full slate of candidates from which to choose in this election. Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, People’s Party of Canada, all have representatives asking for your vote.
It is a shame, literally, that most Members of Parliament will be elected with a minority of the eligible votes cast, a poor reflection of the state of democracy in Canada, but that is the system we have right now, so let’s make the most of it. If the polls are at all accurate, we can expect a political party to govern Canada after one in three Canadians vote for them. That is if every eligible voter actually casts a ballot. Otherwise, as is most likely, the winning team will decide our future having received the votes of less than one-third of those who bother to vote. Either way, it’s a strange way to run a country. Rather than be governed by the Great Men and Women, or the economic elites, I would much prefer to see every layer of society involved in the process. But we usually prefer the easy way out. “We live in a political world, Turning and a-thrashing about. As soon as you’re awake, you’re trained to take What looks like the easy way out.”