Put on your party shoes. It’s prom season for politics. All the parties are elbows-deep in the batting and streamers, attempting to dress up their table just so in an effort to get you to drink deeply from their punch bowl. The party that gets the most people drinking from their bowl wins. End of story. Right?

Well, maybe. But shouldn’t we be a little less sucked in by glitter and be a little more discerning in our choice of refreshments? Hold that thought – the Conservatives have just reached deep into the decorations trunk and hauled out the mother of all pià±atas. It’s huge and shiny and mysterious. It has powers that can only be whispered about.

Eighty percent of chaperones in attendance approve of the pià±ata. The opposition parties are also impressed. The Liberals are so in awe that they vow to keep the pià±ata, even if the chaperones kick the Conservatives out of the party for being too rowdy. Justin Trudeau is sucking up a little and promising that, if he’s put in charge, he’ll watch it closely and not trash the whole room. The NDP are a little more cautious. They also vow to keep the pià±ata should the other two parties be shown the door, but they want to sit down and have a discussion about what’s inside before the blindfold goes on and the swinging starts in earnest. Tom Mulcair is asking if anyone has inspected the candy. Harper is rolling his eyes and is strapping a blindfold on a carefully selected, photogenic volunteer. He’s muttering something about losers and radical hippies. He knows the pià±ata makes him a shoe-in for class president.

But here is the problem: our electoral system is not designed to withstand the madcap, carnival atmosphere that has come to dominate electoral contests. There is not enough padding on the walls and there are breakables everywhere (have you been paying attention to how many election commitments end up being thrown out by courts these days?). But most importantly, it’s too loud in here to have a good solid conversation. And we need to have one.

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Our electoral system is grounded in the idea that individuals will weigh their options and making the best possible choice for their future. We may not all choose well but we are reassured that the wisdom of the crowd will prevail. Choosing which box to check on your ballot generally falls into the same life-choices category as helping your kid assess their post-secondary options: job? Training? College? University? I’m not going to suggest that even those choices are always made in full seriousness. But we generally accept that being serious about your education is a good idea. We should treat choosing a government the same way. Just like university, it lasts for four years and can change your life.

So, let’s listen to the class nerd for once and try a little harder to take our choices a little more seriously. We should all care about the contents of that pià±ata and try not to get mesmerized by the glitter ball. Better still, let’s put away the streamers and the batting and save them for the victory parties. It may be time to revisit the rules around campaigning outside the official election period. Now is not the time for poll-watching. Now is the time for some good old-fashioned conversation and debate. We’ve got some serious decisions to make and there is nothing like solid information to help make the best decisions possible.

Photo by Canopic / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / modified from original

Tim Abray
Tim Abray is an academic, an award-winning communications consultant and a former radio news reporter. Tim's investigation of political systems is informed by 20-years of working with senior government and private sector decision-makers. His main research interest is looking at the effects of political communication on voter behaviour.

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