BEAVER for Politicians: A Canadian sidekick for Stephen Colbert’s ‘Captain America’

Just ten percent of Canadians trust politicians, according to a recent Ipsos poll.  Canadians are more likely to trust new car sales people than elected officials, data from Leger Marketing tell us.

These facts may be good for a laugh.   But, really, we shouldn’t be amused.  The fact that Canadians are more likely to treat politicians as punch lines rather than persons to respect is a fundamental reason why we are tuning out politics.  Barely 60 per cent of Canadians voted in the last federal election.  And in Ontario’s fall provincial election, fewer than 50 per cent of eligible voters showed up at the ballot box.  Our largest province has not seen such low turnout since confederation in 1867.

Apathy is not a neutral force in our democracy.  Apathy helps to sustain the status quo.  And the status quo is not a friend of Canadians under 45.

The standard of living for the majority of those under age 45 is in decline.  Canadians under 45 inherit greater risks from climate change than did Canadians a generation ago.  They inherit larger government debts, bad family policy, a time squeeze, stagnant wages, student loans, and higher housing prices.  Yet none of these signals of declining living standards receive much attention in status quo political debates

It is now urgent for Canadians under 45 to marshal our political voices and give politicians reason to earn our trust by making positive policy change. That’s one reason why I love and fear how Stephen Colbert is covering the US Republican Primaries.

I love it because his show, The Colbert Report, engages younger audiences, using humour and satire to raise very serious questions about the excessive influence of wealth in election ads via ‘arms-length’ Super PACS (political action committees, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for a candidate); to probe the status of corporations as persons; and to poke fun at the success of negative ads.  

I fear the satire, because I’m not sure it leaves many viewers with an alternate vision.  Now that may not be the job of the satirist.  But in a context where no one trusts politicians, it risks reinforcing the notion that politicians are punch lines, not persons to respect.

The quality of our democracy desperately needs for Canadians to show greater charity in interpreting the activities of our politicians.  So long as we don’t trust politicians in this country, we imply they can’t be trusted to help make positive change.  When we don’t think they can make change, we don’t bother to encourage it, or demand it.  This is especially true for Canadians under 45.

With very little fanfare, the vast majority of elected officials work very long hours – more hours than most of us.  This includes giving up a great deal of private time to attend community events and engage constituents.  Most politicians are drawn to public service because they genuinely want to make our communities and our country better.  Sure, we may disagree with some of their ideas about what constitutes improvement, but this doesn’t require that we disparage the person, or her or his commitment to the job.

There is no doubt we will always need auditors general, judges, the media and others to scrutinize what politicians do, and how they spend tax dollars on our behalf – just as we must scrutinize activities in the financial sector, among doctors, police officers, teachers, etc.  In any profession, the odd bad apple betrays our trust and the authority of their positions.

But more generally, let’s all acknowledge there’s a big difference between the armchair coach and the one actually standing on the bench.  It is easy to critique from the cheap seats where most of us sit, including me.  It’s far more challenging to interpret the actions of others, including politicians, with charity.  To approach them with a genuine interest in learning more about what constrains their legislating in ways you or I make may think makes common sense.

So as Stephen Colbert, Captain America, valiantly satirizes the insane degree to which money influences democratic dialogue in North America, I think he needs a trusty sidekick – someone devoted to renewing respect for politicians.  This is essential to restoring our beaver logic.

Readers may know by now that I celebrate our national animal – the beaver – as a true community builder. Beavers build dams to create a reservoir that benefits the whole beaver community.  When the reservoir is deep enough, beavers are efficient because they swim faster than they walk on land; they are safer out of the reach of predators; and they have ample room to build woodsy lodges as homes for their families.

Whenever the dam springs a leak, busy beavers fix the dam, renovating it to withstand the new challenges in their environment. Beavers adapt because they all depend on the dam to safeguard their shared standard of living.

Such beaver logic motivated me to start a new club on-line to complement Captain Colbert.  I call it BEAVER for Politicians – short for Because Every Adequate Voter Expresses Respect for Politicians, even when s/he dislikes the decisions of certain politicians at certain times.

Now, I don’t honestly expect this club will go viral.  In truth, I’ll be happy if I get even 10 comments in response to this post.

To get the ball rolling, I propose two reasons to trust politicians.

First, on our behalf, politicians have made a massive, positive difference for seniors in this country.  By implementing pension policy in combination with a strong economy, we have reduced poverty among seniors from 29 per cent in 1976 to less than 5 per cent today.  That is a remarkable achievement, one to be proud of, and to respect.  The achievement is so impressive, it should even motivate trust as Canadians renew debate about old age security, at least until specific policy proposals are tabled for evaluation.

Second, politicians could replicate this achievement for younger generations of Canadians, in order to make it far easier to raise a family.  But politicians are far less likely to do so, if no one shows it’s in their electoral interest.

Electoral interest?  It’s in far too short supply these days among voters.  So I hope Captain Colbert motivates many more in Generation Squeeze to have fun, even party, as part of tuning into the political process.  And I hope the BEAVER for Politicians can prove a trusty sidekick to instill renewed respect for those who devote themselves to public life.  Only then are we likely to get out to the ballot box alongside Boomers to vote for the political champions of a Canada that works for all generations – including citizens under age 45.

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4 Responses to BEAVER for Politicians: A Canadian sidekick for Stephen Colbert’s ‘Captain America’

  1. Bob Rawnsley says:

    While well beyond 45 (70 to be exact) I’m with you all the way on this one and proud to be a BEAVER for Politicians!

  2. Zac Andrus says:

    Hi Paul,
    We met at your presentation through the YMCA in Victoria last week. I’m Zac Andrus, the co-op student from the University of Victoria. It was great meeting you! I’ve been talking with some friends about the issues you brought up, especially the point about nobody trusting politicians these days. I agree that it’s definitely the root of the problem in politics and my friends said if they trusted politicians more, they would be more likely to care about who they voted for and actually get to the polls. I read your article today as well. I agree it’s a dangerous line that Colbert toes in his show. It’s very popular, but if people only see the comedy side of it and don’t research further into the actual issues being discussed, I think it’s inevitable that they will start trusting politicians less and less. A sidekick showing the good in politicians sounds like a viable option that could stir the pot up a bit in a good way. Can’t wait to read more of your articles as they come out.

    Sincerely, Zac Andrus

  3. Jeff Nagel says:

    Hear, hear!
    Count me in the Beaver Nation, even if I do give them a nibble or a nip from time to time.

  4. R.D. (Dick) Estey says:

    Hi Paul,
    I certainly respect your aspirations with respect to expressing respect for politicians. Anything we can do to encourage more high quality people to aspire to civic leadership is worthwhile. And I certainly aspire to adequacy as an elector. But expressing respect that is not felt is duplicitous, and I do not want to stand with those accused of that crime.

    Respect must be earned – by politicians as well as everyone else. I know that virtually every politician starts with good intentions. But my observations suggest that virtually every one who achieves power has compromised a principle or two to get there. This is not because they are weak-willed wimps but because the system forces those who want power into the party system and thus into message management, idea suppression, political correctness, etc. Conformity is king. The truth is fair game for massaging if not manipulation.

    Michael Ignatieff is a depressing example: a brilliant guy who decided to forego a less stressful and more lucrative career to volunteer his intelligence and experience for the good of his country. Nobody without an ego decides on such a path. But his ego was slightly too big. His up-front aspiration, instead of getting some Parliamentary experience and a feel for the Canadian political scene, was to quickly assume the Liberal leadership and shortly thereafter the prime ministership. This forced him immediately into the vote-buying game – first to win over his new Liberal friends to his leadership candidacy, and then to win over the Canadian voters. Goodbye to new vision, bold initiatives, and stimulating debate. Hello to avoiding sensitive toes and controversy, and playing partisan games with omission, diversion, inference, and emotive instead of descriptive words. The man was not built for such games and he had not taken the time to construct the political foundation which might have allowed him to flaunt the normal rules and change the game. It is a crying shame.

    Anyway, in thinking over your call for action, I have to admit that I have not perhaps been as generous as possible in assessing the political class. I have tended to look at the obvious and numerous examples of political chicanery, and apply that stereotype to the whole category. But some are obviously worse than others, and there may be a few who have good intentions, good work habits, and a genuine, if misguided, belief in their policy pronouncements. And I guess I could respect that combination.
    Dawn Black, I respect you. There, how’s that?

    The best line in your piece: “Apathy is not a neutral force in our democracy.” And your article showcases the antidote – engagement and passion. The beaver imagery is also great to emphasize a democratic trait which gets far too little airing – the health of the commons is essential to the health of the individual.

    Good luck with the campaign.

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