Why do politicians lie to us? Because we ask them to.


 I was out at some doors yesterday for a local candidate. People were very receptive and I do think that an atmosphere for change is finally building in Alberta. Still, at a few doors I hit some of those cynical types who boldly stated the old dodges “They are all the same” and “They are all liars”. Personally I think that most of these people use this as a simplistic excuse to avoid the personal responsibility of actually paying attention to politics and casting a ballot every few years. Politicians are not all the same nor are all of them liars. Still though, there is a grain of truth to those statements which allows people to hide behind them.

 The problem is twofold; politicians are prone to breaking promises because we ask them to make unreasonable promises and we reward them by re-electing them after they have broken promises.

People are prone to voting for whoever blows the most sunshine up their collective arses

I learned the above lesson in the first candidates forum I ever participated in. It was the 2001 election and in Canmore there were a few hundred people gathered at the Howard Johnson so see what we all had to say.

 Now as I said, it was my first forum so I was a little nervous and most unwisely chose to calm my nerves through having a few beers in the lounge before the forum. Consuming a diuretic like beer before having to sit for a few hours in front of a crowd is never a good idea but the foolishness of that idea escaped me that night.

 Getting towards the later part of the forum, I am getting increasingly uncomfortable due to excess bladder pressure and the hours of fluffy and predictable non-answers to questions from other candidates were getting on my nerves. My version of political Tourette’s syndrome was building and I was ready to go off. I was running in a fringe position in that election and was under no illusion that I was in a position to win the seat. That does bestow a certain kind of freedom that the other candidates did not have.

 The question to all candidates that set me off was “How much would you raise minimum wage in order to fight poverty in Alberta?” Such a shallow and loaded question in itself ticked me off and the predictable answers from the other candidates drove me right over the edge.

 The NDP promised a massive increase to minimum wage which would end all poverty in Alberta. The Liberal promised a moderate increase to minimum wage to end all poverty in Alberta. The PC promised to strike a committee to see how much we would need to raise minimum wage to end all poverty in Alberta.

 Finally it was my turn to answer. I began my statement by bluntly pointing out that raising minimum wage to fight poverty was about as stupid as printing money to pay off the debt. Well the intake of breath before utter silence in the room was evident. I then continued to rant and point out that simplistic, band-aid solutions will do nothing to ease a complex problem such as poverty. I said something along the lines of people perpetuating poverty through supporting placebo fixes such as minimum wage increases while ignoring the tougher realities that need to be faced if poverty is to be addressed.

 Well, needless to say I didn’t exactly win the room. What was most striking after the forum though was when I spoke to people one on one in the room (after a much needed washroom break). Many people fully agreed with me but said in hushed tones “you just can’t say that if you are running in an election.” Why the hell not? Through stating what I considered to be a hard reality I had committed an apparent form of blasphemy at the forum. I had burst the shallow trend of platitudes and rainbows with a cold wash of reality.

 I didn’t try to be all things to all people as the rest of the candidates did and many were appalled. People said things such as “I appreciate your honesty, but could never vote for you”. In that case folks, you don’t really appreciate honesty at all. I understand that there were many reasons why I was not elected that year aside from my lack of restraint when speaking. Still, I was shocked and annoyed how people saw sugarcoated answers to be the only acceptable ones out there.

 This attitude of dodging unpleasant answers and issues though is what leads more and more politicians to promise the world during campaigns whether they can deliver it or not.

 Sadly, a platform based on massive spending  increases along with debt reduction, along with tax reduction, along with an elimination of poverty, along with 100% highly paid employment, along with better tasting drinking water in rural areas is simply not feasible. Despite the complete fantasy nature of the above statement, that really is how many campaigns sound and it is what people are often drawn to voting for.

 When you elect politicians based on unreasonable mandates, don’t express shock when the promises are broken. When the electorate is prepared to vote for politicians with realistic mandates, we will see a reduction in broken promises.

 The other factor that encourages politicians to lie is our willingness to keep re-electing proven liars. Incumbents are practicing learned behavior here folks. They lie their faces off in order to win their seats, they break their promises after winning and then we as an electorate reward the behavior by forgiving them and falling for their lies yet again in the next election.

 Alison Redford blatantly and repeatedly lied in order to win the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives and on some pretty darned big promises. It is clear that Redford is willing to say anything to get elected and it is clear that she will not hesitate to go back on her word once elected. Despite this, Redford still leads the polls in Alberta. So many people claim that they are tired of politicians lying yet they refuse to stop supporting the liars.

 If we want to reduce the broken promises and lies of politicians, the first step is to toss out the incumbent liars. Some will say “the next ones will just lie too”. Perhaps that is true. In that case, toss them out in their butts after 4 years. If the next politician lies, toss that one out too. It may take 8 years, but if the electorate makes it clear that lying politicians tend to only retain their seats for four years we will see a big change in the attitude and behavior of politicians of all stripes.

 Is that just a dream though? The electorate needs to stop blaming the politicians and needs to look at itself. In the end, we who vote still hold the ultimate power should we choose to use it. I think that if and when times become hard enough that people will finally engage. I still hold hope that we do not have to crash to get there first.

 The PCs have been in power for 40 years. The lies told and promises broken over four decades are countless. Despite that we keep putting them back in power. Who is at fault here then?

Let’s hope that we see this trend end in a few months. I am a sour grouchy man at times, but I still have an element of optimism in me.