Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Three Ridings in Three Years - An Election Day Reflection on Electoral and Partisan Homelessness

The following post is being offered as an unofficial part of an election day blogburst. As such, it's a good deal more personal than most of the posts offered here at The Nexus.


One of the unique challenges for many Post Secondary Students in this country is living away from home.

For myself, since my journey in acquiring a University Education began in 2004 -- which will likely be remembered as a long year without NHL hockey -- the one thing that has remained more or less constant in my life is the presence of politics.

For those in the know, The Nexus was launched during that year in 2004 as a side project to self-publish views that may have been judged too pragmatically extreme for the University of Alberta Gateway. Over time, of course, things have changed dramatically. The Nexus has become a full-time enterprise, and stands as a testament to the omnipresence of politics in my life.

Some people have come to understand precisely what it is The Nexus stands for. Others, comically, have not.

But even before the Nexus became a semi-daily publishing blog, politics was largely inseparable from my life.

Nearly any time I spent not studying, working or sleeping was spent in the company of a close friend of mine who had moved up to Edmonton at about the same time that I had.

Our purposes in doing so were actually quite different: I was seeking a University education. My friend, however, had moved to the city in order to live on the street. By choice. As a self-avowed anarchist, he'd sworn he could never willingly pay taxes to "the system" he so vociferously opposed.

The topic of conversation, which more often than not unfolded in a Second Cup coffee shop on Whyte Avenue, almost always debated the virtues of mainstream politics -- as embodied by "the system" -- against the radical fringe politics my friend so passionately espoused.

The topics of conversation ranged numerous topics, including but not limited to: anarchism, veganism, straight edge ideology, identity politics of varying degrees, democracy, communism and punk rock.

My good friend introduced me to a dark side of Edmonton's premiere entertainment district that few people see. I was, and remain to this day, outraged by the presence of homeless teenagers -- homeless children, sometimes no older than 14 years old -- on the street. Some caught up in various drug cultures, others brave enough to resist it. Some engaging in property crime, some finding just enough to get by via (mostly) legal means.

As it turns out, more often than not, these kids were running away from abusive home environments.

But the most enraging situations dealt with kids who had been kicked out of their homes by parents unwilling to care for them. Then, to heap on a little extra abuse afterward, telling social workers their children -- whom they had cast out of their homes -- were runaways.

It was -- and remains -- an issue sufficient to offend my sense of social justice while also offending my conservative sense of family values.

After about a year of living on the Edmonton city streets, my good friend moved to Victoria, BC to try to advance his anarchist cause there. A few years ago he moved off the streets and started promoting punk rock concerts and anarchist book fairs.

It's in this regard that it seems rather ironic that my political life has developed to a point of electoral and partisan homelessness. In the past three years I've lived in three different ridings (two federally and one provincially) and voted for three different candidates from two different parties.

During the 2005/06 election, I lived in the riding of Edmonton Centre. Public outrage over the Sponsorship Scandal had given conservative-minded voters across the country an opportunity to finally ouster the Liberal party from government. I cast my ballot in support of Laurie Hawn, and helped unseat a Deputy Prime Minister from public office.

I had disliked Anne McLellan tremendously before election day. Her calls for strategic voting in the lead-up to that election came off as purely disingenuous -- merely an attempt by a desperate candidate whose party had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar to hold on to office.

When the final tally was taken, McLellan lost to Hawn by 7% of the vote in the riding.

Two years later I had moved out of my downtown apartment and into a house on the north side of Edmonton. Aside from the 45-minute bus rides to campus everyday -- only to be inevitably followed by a 45-minute bus ride home again -- I was fairly satisfied with it.

But when the 2008 provincial election was called, I found myself in a unique quandry. Faced by two parties -- the Kevin Taft-led provincial Liberals and Gary Mason-led NDP -- wholly unsuitable to actually govern, it wasn't hard to decide who I favoured as the government.

That being said, with my choice of government virtually guaranteed, I found myself voting for an opposition instead.

Considering the nature of the opposition so needed in Alberta, the choice wasn't difficult: I cast my ballot in favour of Ali Haymour, the NDP candidate in the riding.

Tom Lukaszuk, the Conservative candidate in the riding, wound up winning with a resounding 51% of the vote. Haymour managed to amass less than 10% of the vote.

It was the first time I had ever voted for a losing candidate. I was disappointed, but certainly don't regret it. A much stronger opposition very much remains on my personal provincial wish list in Alberta.

Now, later in 2008, I'm living in a house located just along the periphery of the University. My riding is now Edmonton-Strathcona, and I spent most of this election as an undecided voter. Again, while favouring the Conservative party federally, the local NDP candidate, Linda Duncan, remained a strong candidate.

In the end, it was ironically Duncan's expertise -- actually better suited to the provincial Legislature than the federal House of Commons -- that swayed my decision. Earlier today, I cast my ballot in favour of Rahim Jaffer. He may not win, but I don't expect to regret it if he doesn't.

In the end, the source of my electoral and partisan homelessness may be best described by the words of the late John Diefenbaker:

"I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledege to uphold for myself and for all mankind."
I am a Canadian. A free Canadian. Free to live where I choose, to believe as I will and support any political candidate who supports the values I judge to be most important.

I have the right to support what I believe is right, and oppose what I believe is wrong. More often than not, this requires supporting candidates from more than one political party.

This is a heritage of freedom that must be upheld for myself, for my fellow Canadian citizens, and for all mankind.

But this freedom, when exercised to its fullest, does not come cheaply. It entails embracing partisan homelessness in order to ensure that one has the freedom to do what is right.

Those unwilling to embrace that freedom need not have it held against them. After all, our system remains a party system, and may not be able to function without political parties, no matter how stifling to individual political freedom they may be.

But for the rest of us that freedom will forever remain necessary -- necessary to ensure the right thing is done, and necessary to keep the partisans honest.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant, Patrick. Electoral homelessness is a fact of life - but we are called to choose, for our liberties are lost if we don't defend them.

    As we have done again, today.


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