The proper application of kumbaya

I don’t tend to talk about politics on here. Partially because I don’t believe I’m informed enough to get in on the debate with any gravity, partially because I like preserving the illusion that I’m a man of mystery, and partially more because once someone gets a political label slapped on them, it’s hard to shake.

I never wanted a label. I wanted to learn, to grow, to know what I was talking about, to educate myself on what was what without slant or bias. I didn’t want to get bogged down in left-vs-right, single-minded-with-blinders-on, my-viewpoint-is-better-than-yours-and-how-dare-you-think otherwise horsecrap I see over and over and over in political discussions. There is, from my viewpoint, an incredible slant towards closemindedness in politics, and that’s a real, genuine shame. I’m as guilty of that as anyone.

So, the disclaimer: I don’t claim to know everything. I just know what I think, and feel.


My work buddy Mat got the wheels stirring, several weeks ago. It was during the municipal elections in Calgary, when there was a definite ideological shift going on, and very defined camps for the mayoral candidates.

He asked straightforward, and respectfully, in the way that he does, about my politics. It was genuine, open curiosity, with no malice or rancor. He wondered what I believed, where I stood politically. As well and long as we knew each other, it had never come up- again, I don’t talk politics often. It just doesn’t happen. He never really had either, though the topic had come up peripherally on different occasions. I had some idea as to how he leaned.

It was, as so many of our discussions are, thoughtful, and well expressed by both of us. It didn’t surprise me that we disagreed on some things, and were in lockstep on others.

‘Why can’t we do this?’ I thought. ‘Why can’t this be the rule, rather than the exception?’ An actual exchange of ideas and viewpoints, sometimes disagreeing, but on occasion, meeting in the middle, and finding consensus.

Naive? Sure. But don’t we deserve the effort, at least? The appearance of collaborative politics?


I hate it when people use the “you had to be here to understand” line, as if people without experience weren’t smart enough to figure out it.

Living in Calgary for the past twelve years (and a few years on a prior stint before), though, you saw the difference. You understood it, and why the frustration was so palpable. People out west were sick and tired of having elections decided before their votes were counted, of being ignored by a mostly Liberal government over the 90s and early aughts (and possibly before, though that’s only what I remember). Alberta was an economic stronghold- and, for the most part, a Reform/Conservative fortress of voting.

Politics in Canada is very regionally biased. Out West, it tends to be more Conservative, and in the east, more Liberal/NDP. Quebec has it’s own party (for reasons that still elude me), the Bloc Quebecois, who focus more on that region’s needs. At one point, their aims were separatist, though I believe the realities of what that would entail (like, actual work on their part) have softened that particular stance.

In a way, that’s why the politics are so regionally biased: if you’ve grown up in one city/province, wouldn’t you be influenced by the culture there? How could you avoid the reality of your situation and how everyone around you voting and thinking a particular way?

But I refuse to accept our regional bias as inevitable. I refuse to accept apathy as inevitable. And I challenge you to do the same.


There is a decided lack of big picture thinking in the federal leadership at the moment. ANY political leadership, if we’re being honest. This shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.

With the regional blocs, there needs to be a shift in how government runs- and, additionally, a shift in how we think. I feel like that’s starting for me. I was a good Alberta boy for a long time, though I don’t think I was ever copacetic about Stephen Harper’s turn in the big chair. After initial jubilation at the Conservatives finally displacing the supposedly corrupt Liberals, I remember my first taste of “our team” in charge sitting uneasy with me.

‘Wait,’ I thought. ‘We were supposed to be different. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.’ Naive, to be sure, but there are few more powerful forces than hope. Witness the meteoric rise of Barack Obama in the last US election- he offered hope, to a country that clung to it like a drowning man to a life preserver. And, much like myself with Harper, people were stung when they realized that it is never as easy as they think it is, and that Obama couldn’t change the world overnight.

The reality is a study of conflicts, and often less extreme. It’s never as good or as awful as we think. Obama wasn’t going to change the world, but nor was he going to be the end of days. Stephen Harper wasn’t going to heal years of western alienation overnight, but nor is he some kind of power-mad dictator bent on making Canadians fear for their lives.

The big picture is bigger than we all are. If we’re going to continue to elect minority governments in Canada, they need to work together. WE need to work together, to show ’em how it’s done.

So here’s my challenge: Exercise your privilege to vote, bought and paid for by men generations ago, and do so with the gravity that this privilege deserves. Know the issues that are important to you, and be educated on what your candidate and party stand for. Let your thinking be challenged sometimes- you can learn a lot. Don’t be a slave to party politics, as so many are. Ask yourself why you’re voting for a candidate, and not why you’re NOT voting for someone else.

As a cynical man in a cynical society, it won’t be easy for me to do that. I get caught up in the emotion, in wanting to be right, and in needing to label people and parties easily, so I can file them away in particular parts of my mind. But there’s another part of me that wants to have that discussion, with Mat, and with others, where we can agree AND disagree, but find that middle ground that we share, something great and special and unique.

Is that naive, to want something great, from something so complex as our government? Sure. It’ll definitely take a while to get there. But shouldn’t we try for it anyway?


2 thoughts on “The proper application of kumbaya

  1. Kristen

    These are some good thoughts. It’s interesting because I find myself against things rather than ‘for’ things this federal election. I’m tired of a democratic government that openly lies to its people–of a government that doesn’t feel the need to respond to its citizens. I’m tired of tax breaks for big businesses while everyday citizens can’t afford to put food on their table. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I can’t understand why some people have to choose rent or food, particularly when they’re working for both.

    Poverty isn’t a point of concern for candidates.

    I’m tired of seeing new graduates saturated in debt entering the workforce with the burden of those expenses–that they can’t bounce back from that kind of debt. The state of education in this country is a mess.

    Education isn’t a point of concern for candidates.

    The evidence is open to interpretation, and I believe that (so I don’t expect everyone to see my concerns in the same light), but I also believe all people in this country should count. Policies that exclude people need to be reexamined, rethought, and reworked. But these things can only happen if we put them on the agenda–and we can only put them on the agenda if we care enough to get involved in the process. Vote. Write. Push.

  2. DaveC Post author

    You were someone I had in mind when I wrote this, Kristen, really glad you commented.

    Funny you mention education, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff mentioned money for university students as one of the jumping off points for his campaign- I don’t recall specific details, but it’s out there. My immediate reaction was: “Okay. So where’s that money going to come from?”

    I’m a pragmatist in politics. I was someone who questioned Obama all the way through the US election process, but that was more as a reaction to what I saw as blind faith in a man who didn’t seem to know the reality of what awaited him. That said, I still would have voted for him. He’s a sharp guy, and I still think he’ll figure it out. But we need to be realistic about our expectations, and I think politicians could stand to be more realistic in what they promise. We can take it. We expect that. We’re cynical, questioning, and smarter than they think.

    When I see candidates promising money and programs, I immediately think: “It has to come from somewhere.” So are we raising taxes? Are we chopping something else down? None of that is necessarily bad, but it needs to be grounded.

    I’m questioning my own politics, and starting to develop an interest in the goings-on of government. It’s been a surprisingly freeing experience, and there’s so much more to learn.

    After I wrote my last entry on the Seed visit (really appreciated your comment there too, by the way), someone asked me on Twitter: “What would you do about homelessness?” I had no answer. It’s a staggering problem. And there may not be a perfect solution to attack that or poverty.

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