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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Do Elections Actually Equal Political Accountability?

Back in 1993 Kim Campbell was excoriated for stating the obvious that elections are not the time to deal with complex issues. The reaction was swift negative and part of her disastrous electoral outcome.  She was right however.

The sound bite journalism with the superficial horse race mind set of traditional media coverage back then persists today...even worse if you ask me.  Add to that the social media maelstrom of comment and conflict and the poor voter is hard pressed to know what or who to believe...never mind trust.

The Hill Times has a terrific article by W.T. Stansbury entitled "Why general elections are pretty poor mechanism for accountability to citizens."  It is a long and thoughtful article so don't rush through it.  Let it sink in.  Accountability along with Integrity and Honesty were the top three evaluation criteria Albertan's choose in some research we did last May through Reboot Alberta.  It is a serious and central concern of citizens in this province.

His accountability theme expands on the fact that elections are too infrequent to make and irreversible to really make politicians accountable.  He notes that we don't have any really effective and acceptable performance measures for politicians, especially given the complex and wide scope of government. He notes there is a sense that elections are mostly a referendum on the performance of the economy. If folks feel better off the economic management of the current government get applauded and likely re-elected.  Harper is making misleading comments about the comparative strength of the Canadian economy as Jim Stafford points out in this Globe and Mail Commentary 

This leads to Stansbury's next point; the Information Problem.  Information to assess government performance is hard to collect get at and it is expensive to access. We see Access to Information policy thwarted more than enabled and recently we see it is inappropriately interfered with by Harper government operatives for political purposes.

There is more but you get the drift.  Elections matter but we need to take them seriously as citizens as difficult as that is.  It is made worse with the superficial political spin machines and the misleading messaging they push at us and the herd mentality of understaffed and under funded mainstream media who too often get suckered into be stenographers and not journalists.

Just another reason why citizens need to take back control of our democracy and punish poor political performance in government and on the way to get there.