Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 14, 2004
Don't rely on political promises
Whenever an election campaign comes, one reality keeps it interesting: election promises.
And it does not matter whether it is a federal or provincial election. The situation is the same. Candidates treat the electorate to a host of promises.
As the campaign progresses we are waiting day in day out for what will be the next promise the politicians will launch to further their campaign.
Because this is the case, it is not difficult to see that election promises are the currency that keeps politics going. Voters listen to what a political party says it will do if elected. Sometimes they like or dislike what they hear. Come election time, a decision has to be made whether to support a party.
Some voters listen to politicians lay out government platforms like they are watching a river flow or the snow fall. They could care less what their future government plans to do with this country. Others get agitated by the endless rhetoric and glib talk of some politicians. Still others listen carefully and weigh every word the politicians say.
To many voters, a promise is not just a promise. It is something sacred. It is the ultimate test of credibility, integrity and honesty. If a party leader promised to cut taxes, create more jobs, provide more public services and eliminate the deficit, he or she will be judged come re-election time.
A promise is not an empty word. It is a form of a social contract entered into by the electorate and the candidates. It is a commitment to be delivered and fulfilled in the future in exchange for a nod from the voters on election day.
If that is the case, why do politicians break their promises so often? And more importantly why do they get away with it? Does a promise still have a value for the people?
Perhaps honour no longer means much. Perhaps this is one major reason why some people choose not to vote.
What happened in Ontario is the most recent example of a broken promise. In the 2003 provincial election, the Ontario Liberals promised not to increase taxes. When they released their first budget, they imposed a new tax with a different name: health-care premiums.
Of course Premier Dalton McGuinty has an excuse. In between asking for forgiveness for breaking his promise, he explained that he was responding to a high deficit that he had inherited from the previous government.
McGuinty is invoking the excuse that circumstances change. But they always do. In essence he is also asking voters to forget the breach of trust.
But why promise something that you cannot realistically live up to?
Another example is former Prime Minister Jean Chretien's promise to abolish the goods and services tax when he ran in 1993. In fact, Sheila Copps even vowed to resign her seat if the government failed to live up to that promise.
But the GST stayed because when the Liberals took office and looked at the books, the party decided it couldn't give up the revenue. However, Chretien was never punished for breaking his word as he won majorities in the 1997 and 2000 elections.
The list of broken promises can go on. Inevitably, one will ask, "What will this election add to the growing list?"
Politicians will continue to make promises. And voters will listen to them. At the end of the day what is crucial is that one makes an informed decision and that such a decision stems from one's own conscience and is not just based on promises.
Letter to the Editor - 06/21/04
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