Monday, January 14, 2013

Why Politics Matter: It's About The People, Stupid.

This past year I have had the privilege of sitting on the executive of Kitchener Centre's New Democratic Party as LGBTQ Representative. My term is winding down and I have a few thoughts as I sit in a café in downtown Kitchener.

Politics are in my blood. My paternal grandfather Harry Owen Alward ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the provincial legislature as a Liberal, but had a much more successful run as a municipal politician, sitting on almost every board possible from the 50's to the 80's, and being a councillor and Reeve for many many years.  My grandfather's interest in politics was handed down to my father, who handed it down to me. At first as a teenager I was enamored with the now-defunct Progressive Conservative party led by Jean Charest, but I also attended rallies and appearances by Jean Chretien (Liberal) and Stockwell Day (Canadian Alliance).  For a few years I wavered in my allegiance between the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, before committing to the NDP.

These days my Facebook feed is often filled with anti-Conservative or anti-Liberal status updates, or links to anti-Conservative or anti-Liberal news articles.

And I think this is what most people are sick and tired of.

Yes, I believe that our provincial and federal governments must be held accountable for actions which subvert the democratic process or are harmful to its citizens or environment, but when was the last time you heard a Conservative praising a New Democrat, or vice versa? It doesn't happen enough. That's why, when a member of another party comes up with a great idea, we should let them know. One such idea is that of Kitchener-Waterloo MP Peter Braid, who wants to extend the deadline of charitable giving from the end of the year, to the end of February, when RRSP contributions are due. He also wants to create a National Charities Week during the last week in February. Provincially, Kitchener Centre MP John Milloy, who I have disagreements with, has had his hand in opening more low-income housing, and I congratulate him on that.

A cynic from another party might try to pour over these things and find some minutiae to argue about...or we could see them for what they are: accomplishments and good ideas.

Politics must take on a less-toxic tone than we have seen here in Canada for many years now. And that means working with people who we previously haven't bothered to get to know.  I know for myself, I entered my portfolio as LGBTQ Representative as an ally who wasn't aware of many of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, and I still have a long ways to go.  But it is thrilling when you move beyond your comfort zone or that which you are knowledgeable about and learn about people. Because if politics isn't about people, people will continue to tune out and voter turnout will continue to plummet.

As part of Kitchener Centre's NDP, we have our annual general meeting quickly approaching. If I am fortunate to be elected to another position, I will commit to two things: Firstly, listening to people around me, whether they make six figures or panhandle on King St. Secondly, I will work with anyone from any party to make our community a better place, and I will listen intently and decide whether I can or cannot support something they or their party are proposing.

In conclusion, politics must be about the people. We've had enough of partisanship and brinksmanship.

Mark Andrew Alward is on the executive of Kitchener Centre's New Democratic Party.