Shooting the messenger

Casting yourself as the conscience of the community is a pretty thankless task, never mind that it is more than a little presumptive.

Casting yourself as the conscience of the community is a pretty thankless task, never mind that it is more than a little presumptive.

At worst, you’re seen as a know-it-all, trying to impose your views on thousands of people who may not share your perspective.

At best, you may offer observations, views and even propose solutions that can provide guidance and illumination — but it’s still inevitable that some people will ascribe an agenda and an affiliation to you that is in fact not yours.

And, of course, the role of an editorial writer can also bring you downright scorn — particularly during a provincial or federal election.

Late last week, a longtime reader called to decry recent editorials that criticized the federal Conservative government. She noted that a story in Thursday’s Advocate reported that no Liberal candidate has come forward yet to run in the Red Deer riding.

She had a suggestion: why didn’t one of our editorial writers volunteer to represent the Liberals, she asked. After all, she continued, you’re obviously all Liberals.

It’s a huge, and perilous, leap of logic to suggest that anyone who criticizes a party or a leader is by default a supporter of another party. It would be both unwise and unprofessional for us to unilaterally trumpet one party, let alone carry a membership card.

However, if it were so that to be a member precluded criticism, or the offer of advice, then every party caucus meeting, every policy convention, would feature mass expulsions or defections.

And that’s hardly democracy at work.

It is also a dangerous notion to suggest that the system and its prime players are above criticism. If we blindly follow, we’ll get the fate we deserve: an unresponsive, arrogant and uniformed government.

But Canadians — Albertans in particular, and Central Albertans perhaps most of all — tend to be loyal to a fault when it comes to political affiliation. Essentially, once a Tory, always a Tory — often for generations. It’s not enough to be conservative, Albertans must also be Conservative — and there often is a big difference.

For many of these voters, it often seems that history matters more than potential. Past players (if they are of the wrong party persuasion) are more likely to have more leverage over decision making of the average voter than the current crop of politicians.

How many Central Albertans flatly dismiss the Liberal platform without thoroughly examining it, because Jean Chretien and Pierre Trudeau once led the party? Chretien retired more than seven years ago. Trudeau has been dead for more than 10 years.

Yet that same Tory faithful will turn a blind eye to the moral turpitude of former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney and any lingering impact that may have on the party.

Blinkered devotion hardly seems like a thoughtful way to go about making a choice as monumental as choosing a candidate at the polls.

For the curious and the proactive, there is a way to measure your traditional political support against your personal philosophy. A CBC website feature, Vote Compass (http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/story/2011/03/11/cv2011-vote-compass.html) asks you a series of questions about federal issues and policies.

When you have completed the poll, Vote Compass tells you which party you should vote for, and which you should not.

The result might be illuminating, even for the most ardent of party faithful. Taking it might just be the step many voters need to look at the issues rather than the team jerseys.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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