It is a good time to be a political junkie. I'm a dual (U.S./Canadian) citizen and the next three years will feature almost constant elections. The year 2014 will bring local elections here in Oshawa, Ontario as well as Congressional elections in the US.
The year 2015 will bring federal elections in Canada and 2016 will bring the U.S. presidential election, along with more congressional elections. Somewhere in there the Ontario provincial government will be up for election as well. If you're a sports fan, just imagine a season starting that was going to last three years without a break.
Elections provide an opportunity to raise issues and there is a long list of issues that require attention. Personally, the issues I'd like to see get the most attention are transparency and accountability.
Obviously there are many important issues in both countries. The economy will always be on the table, there are multiple issues around the environment, health care, education, drug policy reform and the prison system, foreign policy, human rights, labor rights, campaign finance reform, unemployment, poverty, income inequality and many, many more. It seems to me though that until we get transparency and accountability from government, our odds of actually solving any of these issues are greatly diminished.
Currently we are living in a Bizarro World version of democracy. As we've learned over the last few years, personal privacy essentially doesn't exist at the moment. Personal information is traded between private corporations and governments without any real legal oversight. At the same time government information has become more and more private. Elections are bought and sold and we frequently don't even know the names of the buyers. International treaties are negotiated and agreed to in secret and much of the day to day business of government is now classified.
It is the exact opposite of how democracy is supposed to work, and makes solving problems almost impossible. If we don't know what government is doing, what they're thinking about, who they are talking to, what is being discussed or who is paying the bills how are we supposed to make informed decisions?
Over the last decade, every government I mentioned (local, provincial and federal), regardless of which party was in power, has been dogged by questions about
a) questionable information gathering
b) secret meetings
c) secret donations
d) increased and inappropriate secrecy with government documents and information
e) the muzzling of journalists, whistleblowers, bureaucrats and even members of the government
or f) all of the above
To make matters worse there is almost no recourse. Governments have refused to answer questions or to be held accountable even when caught.
As voters we are tasked with choosing the people who will best represent us and our views on important issues and we are expected to live with our choices. That task becomes incredibly difficult though if we are only offered rhetoric and denied access to vital information. Without transparency and accountability we are essentially left to throw the dice and hope for the best.
It should be incredibly difficult for government to hide any information, oversight on what documents are being classified and limits on the amount of time information can remain classified. It should be nearly impossible for government to hold secret meetings. It should be illegal for politicians or political parties to accept secret donations, to muzzle the press or the bureaucracy. There should be legal protection for whistleblowers and a system that enforces accountability and provides real consequences for legal or ethical breaches. Currently some of these things exist on paper but none of them exist in reality.
Over the next three years I will be asking everyone who asks for my vote what they are going to do to restore transparency, accountability and democracy. I hope that you will ask them too.