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Lest We Forget: Remember To Remember On Wednesday

Canadian Vimy Cemetery No 2

There is sure to be a plethora of media noise emanating from my southern neighbours for the next weeks, if not months (years?). Even with the election of Joe Biden, after four long days of painstaking ballot counting, the fireworks are not going to end soon.

And once again he has, sadly, opted to be as un-presidential as possible and incite his followers to ignore the democratic process.

The incumbent has dug in his heels and will not concede defeat, nor agree to a smooth transition. Once again he has an opportunity to lead the country in a mature, responsible, statesman-like peaceful manner. And once again he has, sadly, opted to be as un-presidential as possible and incite his followers to ignore the democratic process.

This election has been conducted against the backdrop of the Novel Coronavirus; voting was different, with many ballots mailed in by citizens who chose not to gather at polling places where social distancing would be almost impossible. Therefore there was a delay in the counting.

Many women and men have, over the decades, given their lives to ensure this freedom

The United States does many things very well, running elections is not one of them. Regardless, to a citizen, they claim to respect the right of free elections. The ability to chose who will run the country, make laws and enforce them is sacrosanct. Many people around the world do not have this privilege. My wife is from Venezuela where they may well cast ballots, but the outcome is never in doubt.

But in the US votes matter. As they do here in Canada, and other democracies. Many women and men have, over the decades, given their lives to ensure this freedom. Wars have been fought and won in the name of freedom. This fact is, not surprisingly, rarely considered while standing in line to vote, or dropping off a ballot at the post office.

With the current news cycle focused on the US election and COVID-19, it is imperative that we take a moment this Wednesday, November 11, Remembrance Day, to remember all of those who gave their lives for our freedom. It doesn’t matter what party you vote for, left or right, Conservative or Liberal, the ability to choose is what free elections are all about.

My grandfather G.E Blackwell and his son Russell, my uncle. There names are etched in the local Catholic church with all parishioners who served.

My great-grandfather did his best to do what he believed was his part, but was too old. His son, my grandfather fought in the trenches of France and Belgium in the First World War, my father and uncles did the same, perhaps not trench warfare, in World War II. Fortunately they all came home, many others were not so lucky.

Let’s remember to remember this Wednesday.

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Make Votes Count; Hire More Counters

The last polls in the United States have been closed for more than two days. Still no final result. I think I’m on a first name basis with all the CNN folks as they fill time during this neverendum referendum. With the COVID pandemic running amok, many people chose not to stand in line at voting places, opting to mail-in their ballots instead. The processing of this unusually large number of mail-ins is causing havoc and delay in determining an outcome.

Those of us who live in open democracies cherish the ability to exercise our franchise. So why does the USA seem to treat it with disdain?

Those of us who live in open democracies cherish the ability to exercise our franchise. Men and women, those we honour one week from now on Remembrance Day, have given their lives to ensure this freedom remains. It’s a lofty concept. So why does the USA seem to treat it with disdain?

One reason could be that the exercising of franchise, the process of voting, costs money. I don’t mean the billions of dollars spent by parties on partisan campaigning – buses, planes, in the good old days trains – I am talking about the actual casting of votes.

One reason could be that the exercising of franchise, the process of voting, costs money.

Here in Canada we have an entity called Elections Canada, defined thusly: The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer is the non-partisan agency responsible for administering Canadian federal elections and referendums. Elections Canada is an office of the Parliament of Canada, and reports directly to Parliament rather than to the Government of Canada. Yes indeed, one non-partisan set of voting rules applied right across the country to see to the smooth running of federal elections.

It is the responsibility of this non-partisan body to ensure that, based on local population, there are sufficient polling stations in any given area. Of course this entails making sure these stations are properly staffed. It is rare that extremely long lines form at voting places. Certainly there are busier times; lunch, immediately after work are two examples.

Once the voting is over, and all those who made it to the polling station before the deadline, even if they are waiting in line, have cast their ballots, the counting begins. I understand that in the US many items are on the ballot, and they often use voting machines. Regardless, if the counting of votes takes this long, there are not enough vote counters. Plain and simple.

If the democratic process is so dear to the hearts of Americans, wouldn’t you think it would warrant paying a sufficient number of people to count the votes cast?

If the democratic process is so dear to the hearts of Americans, wouldn’t you think it would warrant paying a sufficient number of people to count the votes cast? Whether ‘today’ ballots or ‘mail-in’, they all must be counted.

There will be challenges and requests for recounts, that’s all part of the procedure. But before ballots can be challenged or recounted, they have to be counted.

A little respect for the process would go a long way.

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Grass Roots And Grassroots

 Photograph: Harry Durrant/Getty Images

The Grass Roots was an American rock band in the late sixties and early seventies. Their biggest, but certainly not their only, hit was Midnight Confessions, a song that still gets played on many oldies stations.

On the other hand, the concept of Grassroots politics is significantly different, but no less an integral part of US culture. According to Wikipedia, “Grassroots movements and organizations use collective action from the local level to affect change at the local, regional, national, or international level”.

That’s the way politics used to work. Men and women – sometimes children – working locally to affect change. Community groups and lawn signs are all part of grassroots politics. Striving for improvements to society from the bottom up.

Today we see the natural progression (regression?) of negativity. Attack ads are much more prevalent than are those promoting positivity.

But that was then and this is now. The man/woman in the street’s opinion really doesn’t seem to matter, which may lead to many of them not bothering to vote. Perhaps I’m being naïve; perhaps it never did. Yet I have to believe that without this input the system is doomed to fail.

I sense that the beginning of the end was the advent of, and essentially total switch to, negative politicking. Grassroots politics focus on positive change; making things better. A new municipal swimming pool or a new president. Today we see the natural progression (regression?) of negativity. Attack ads are much more prevalent than are those promoting positivity. “Never mind what I will do, we must stop my opponent from doing whatever he or she will do” is the mantra.

In Canada, the 1993 election provided us with an example of how our two countries view negative political advertising. The Progressive Conservative (oxymoron?) Party of Canada ran an ad featuring very unflattering photos of Liberal candidate Jean Chrétien, who suffers from “partial paralysis” of his face, which he believes was a birth defect and which his mother thought was the result of a childhood disease or virus. The PCP went on to lose the election and many consider this ad to have been the turning point. Canadians are nice folks; the electors did not like the nastiness.

I fear that a candidate’s platform – remember those? – is less crucial today than criticizing the opponent’s promises – dare I say it – ad nauseam .

However, in the early days of negative campaigning, this mud-slinging was kept to actual pre-election periods and was done by backroom flunkies, for the most part, the candidates kept their hands clean except for ‘approving’ the ads, of course. But the current resident of the Oval Office practices it on a daily basis all year round. From his favourite “fake news” to his total disregard for scientific facts, he constantly demeans the Office he holds.

When United States Senators can say one thing four years ago, then completely flip-flop on that statement today shows incredible disrespect for those who elect them, to say nothing of the process.

Sowing lies and mistruths from the highest office in the land is something totally out of character for any inhabitant of the White House. Sadly this distortion of facts and warping of the electoral process has exposed the many people who are easily duped. The time has come for elected officials at all levels of government to consider what is best for their constituents, not what is best for their own political careers.

When United States Senators can say one thing four years ago, then completely flip-flop on that statement today shows incredible disrespect for those who elect them, to say nothing of the process.

It is a sad turn of events indeed.

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