Our democratic institutions are decaying.  Or as Chris Hedges said: “There is no national institution left that can accurately be described as democratic. Citizens, rather than participate in power, are allowed to have virtual opinions to preordained questions, a kind of participatory fascism as meaningless as voting on American Idol.”  He was of course talking about American democracy but nonetheless I think of this in the context of the upcoming Canadian federal election as thoughts turn to where to place your vote within the spectrum of so-called choices.

I’ve been told that neglecting to vote abdicates one’s civic duty, automatically denying you the right to an opinion.  In a cursory way that rings true, but what intrigues me about that sentiment is how those claiming it the loudest also seem to be the most unaware of what they are voting for, the issues and how institutions work.

Take for example the current Conservative Party of Canada.  On a superficial level, as conservatives they routinely hit all the rhetorical marks laying claim to issues like law and order, fiscal responsibility, low taxes and a love of country that must be expressed with evangelical-like enthusiasm.  But as a voter if you cast your support for the CPC on this basis, you are in fact voting against your perceived interests since, as expected, words and deeds fail to coincide.

For instance on the policy level, the CPC wants to create a private for profit prison system based on nonexistent crime statistics; they have shown no fiscal conservation in awarding no-bid contracts for fighter jets, G-20 security and an overall spending increase on policy initiatives not vetted by taxpayers.  And so on. But presented with these facts, people are still seduced by the rhetoric.

By any cultural progressive measure the alternatives to the Conservative Party are, I think, better but not substantially so.  If by winning this election, Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party would likely govern more or less the same way, minus some of the reckless domestic programs mentioned above and certainly the acerbic tone established by Stephen Harper. And that’s the problem.  All political roads seem to lead to the same manufactured mirage promising relief from the heat, economic or otherwise.  Mythical notions of national pride replace common sense and critical thinking, distracting people away from the corporatizing of our democratic institutions, a growing trend that at the moment is being perfected south of the border as documented by Chris Hedges et al.  To borrow a phrase from Tariq Ali, some political parties might have better mood music, but not much else.

Getting back to the Harper government, it’s true they have been found in contempt of Parliament, which is a first for any government in Canadian history.  This fact is rather significant and it takes the clever Bruce MacKinnon to reminds us since mainstream punditry has decided to behave as if it were just a clerical misunderstanding.  It is significant, and it follows the consistent pattern by the Conservatives of being quite extreme in their contempt for our democratic institutions and by extension Canadians.

Within the walls of Parliament, the cultural descent has been steep.

That said is it important to vote? Yes, but have no illusions about the value of your vote.  These days there is very little to vote for.  On the other hand, in my opinion, there is a great deal to vote against.