This column written was written after the Canadian Federal Elections in the Fall of 2000, and is a sequel to one written prior to the voting.
In my last column before the federal electionI elaborated the Buddha's teaching about making a sound decision, which he said is one not based on the unwholesome factors of greed, hatred, fear and delusion; and I applied these principles to politics, defining a vote as a special kind of decision and warning against politics based on these factors.
Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that any of our political leaders read the Star's religion page. The election is now over and it was disheartening to see these factors figuring so prominently in the campaigns. Most observers characterize this election as one of the nastiest in memory.
It didn't need to be that way. The Prime Minister began by calling for an historic debate on ideas and principles. The leader of the Opposition promised an "agenda of respect." Neither man followed through, and the campaign quickly descended into mutual insults and mud-slinging.
Alliance spokespersons complain, with some justice, that the Liberals consistently misrepresented their positions. This is especially unfortunate because the actual ideas put forward by the Alliance in the campaign, and the record of fellow-traveler provincial governments in Alberta and Ontario should have provided sufficient fodder for a reasoned critique.
But the Alliance were just as guilty of creating delusion with false allegations. One thinks of Stockwell Day attacking funding for the arts by holding up a book of "dumb blonde" jokes, claiming it was paid for with federal funds. (It wasn't) More disturbing was his attempt to play on the emotion of fear by making an issue of a sex-offender case. Mr. Day said the culprit had re-offended while out on parole, calling the Liberal policies "soft on crime." The fact is that the man was not on parole, having served his complete sentence, and was in any case under provincial, not federal, jurisdiction.
Both major parties sunk low enough to play on prejudice. The Alliance candidate who complained about an "Asian invasion" is only the most glaring example. We cannot excuse the Liberals either, with their ridiculing of Mr. Day's personal religious beliefs.
Of course, both major parties appealed to middle class greed with their competing plans for tax-cuts at a time when the health-care and social support systems are desperately underfunded, and when we still have a huge outstanding debt.
We ought also to consider what was not present in the campaign. Opposing the negative factors such as greed and fear, Buddhist thought recognizes positive or wholesome factors, the chief of which are wisdom and compassion. Wisdom includes the virtues of truth and of what is called "seeing things in their real nature." That is, facing hard realities. One hard reality at this time is environmental degradation, particularly climate change. There was almost no discussion of this crisis during the election.
Compassion applied to politics is the concern for the weakest and most disadvantaged members of our society. The plight of the homeless is a major failure of compassion in our community life. Again, there was almost no talk from any side about the thousands sleeping in the streets of our cities.
It may be a bit unfair to entirely blame the politicians for the unedifying nature of campaign 2000. The rough and tumble of our adversarial system probably doesn't bring out the best side of people seeking office. It is too easy to be cynical about men and women who are, after all, dedicating themselves to public service. The ultimate responsibility lies with the voting public to encourage them to manifest the high ideals that led them into politics in the first place.
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