Editor’s Take: Electoral train wrecks

I was texting with a retired farmer acquaintance this week about the U.S. election while he was deer hunting in the sandhills of western Saskatchewan.

Like a lot of Canadians, he wanted to follow the unfolding events, even though he wasn’t in a reliable cellphone service area. So I’d agreed to keep him filled in on the results via text.

By the end of the night it was clear that the likely outcome was going to be legal challenges, recounts and perhaps even the spectacle of a sitting U.S. president refusing to accept the results of an election.

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His blunt assessment, before signing off to have another rum and coke and then hitting the hay to be ready to fill his party’s second tag the next day, was simple and to the point: “It’s a real sh!tshow.”

I might have a whole editorial to fill here, but it’s tough to beat that economical analysis of the political woes of the world’s ‘brand name’ democracy.

Thankfully, the agricultural commodity markets have done the sensible thing so far and virtually shrugged off the bitterly partisan politicking in favour of good old-fashioned fundamental supply-and-demand drivers.

Prairie farmers are enjoying an uncommonly pleasant convergence right now of good demand, good prices and a transportation system that’s humming right along. Farm Credit Canada reported this week that deliveries are up 13.6 per cent in the first nine months of the year and exports are up 2.3 per cent.

That said, Canadian farmers aren’t immune to the fallout from conflicting world views and in particular, the one epitomized and projected by Donald Trump.

He and his supporters are nurturing a growing mistrust of how democracy, or rather the way it’s been managed, looks after the ‘little guy.’ Whether or not you believe Donald Trump has the ‘little guy’s’ back, it’s clear many of those rallying behind him do.

Trump is a symptom of a much bigger problem — one where increasingly rancorous partisanship threatens to undermine the institutions of democracy themselves.

George W. Bush was seen as an illegitimate president by more than a few Democrats, despite clearly winning the electoral college, if not the popular vote.

And while the popular vote issue might be a fair point to raise about the structure of American government, much as proportional representation advocates here criticize our own first-past-the-post system, those are the rules.

A bit further back in time, Republican legislators spent most of the Clinton presidency trying to prove him a crook or worse. And Barack Obama was hounded by a certain subset of voters whose criticism can be summed up thusly: ‘Kenyan, Muslim, Communist, Socialist’ — something that’s been dubbed “Obama Derangement Syndrome” by some observers.

Unfortunately this bitter partisan trend shows signs of jumping the border and taking root here in Canada too.

If these seeds of discontent continue to grow, the fallout will become more than political. Governments have, over time, become less concerned about making good policy than they are about getting re-elected.

Regardless of who wins the U.S. election, the prospect of a divided Senate, House and administration will make it exceedingly difficult to govern, just as a minority government in Canada is unwieldy.

That breeds more discontent among the voters. What’s more, it gives rise to a style of politician who seeks to win by dividing the electorate rather than uniting.

Appealing to voters’ reason and common sense is hard work, whereas appealing to our emotions and focusing on red herrings like the dangers posed by newcomers is the low-hanging fruit of their trade.

The stakes in this game are high for farmers who, more than many other businesses, are heavily reliant on politicians to enact policies that mitigate production risk, invest in new innovations and help them access international markets.

In this kind of political area, there is a risk that farmers will either get too much of the wrong kind of support as we saw with the copious ad hoc income supports meted out to U.S. farmers during the months leading up to the election.

More likely in Canada, there is also a risk that agricultural issues will fall right off the radar of politicians looking for the best sound bite to curry favour in urban ridings.

As individuals, farmers can and should vote for whomever they choose.

But they have a vested interest in making sure their politicians can get along — regardless of their political preferences.

Breaking our democratic systems free of bitter partisanship starts at home.

About the author

Editor

Gord Gilmour

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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