One of my favourite movies of the past few years is 'Get him to the Greek'. I am pretty sure I did not stop laughing for the whole 109 minutes of it's raunchy, terribly inappropriate, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll-over-the-topness. It is also the movie that made me fall in love with Russell Brand. Who, despite what his appearance and general demeanor might convey, is probably one of the most eloquent social commentators of our current time. Watch a few episodes of his talk show Brand X (on YouTube now, the show was cancelled earlier this year), read his blog posts or even better, if you are in one of the lucky cities, snag some tickets to his world tour, and you will see what I mean. He's a comedian who says what a lot of us are thinking, but does so with an extra dose of perspective that makes us really think on what he is saying about our world long after we have stopped laughing about it.
Last week, Russell wrote a very interesting post for the Guardian, after he allegedly got kicked out of a GQ Fashion Awards after-party over some comments he made in his acceptance speech. I highly suggest you read his post and also watch the video of his speech for more of the back-story, but why this post is relevant here is because of his comments about the relationship between industry, politicians and the media.
"Why are public officials, paid by us, turning up at events for fashion magazines? Well, the reason I was there was because I have a tour on and I was advised it would be good publicity. What are the politicians selling? How are they managing our perception of them with their attendance of these sequin-encrusted corporate balls?
We witness that there is a relationship between government, media and industry that is evident even at this most spurious and superficial level. These three institutions support one another. We know that however cool a media outlet may purport to be, their primary loyalty is to their corporate backers. We know also that you cannot criticize the corporate backers openly without censorship and subsequent manipulation of this information."
I read this post after having two separate and interesting conversations about these very relationships, first with one of my local city council candidates and then again on the topic of campaign donations with some involved Edmontonians on Twitter. As you can imagine, there are mixed feelings on this topic.
Some believe that knowledge of campaign contributors BEFORE an election places undue blame and 'guilt by association' on candidates and takes the conversation away from the issues that really matter for voters. Perhaps this is true to some extent. This kind of information could sway votes away from candidates who seem to be heavily funded by corporations or individuals with a special interest in having some kind of influence on politicians and their decision making.
My response to this kind of thinking is this; if politicians claim that they are NOT being unduly influenced by these contributions, then there should be no issue with disclosing who and where the money is coming from before they are in office. In light of the kinds of corruption and financial abuse that we have seen in this country from politicians at all levels of government, transparency in politics and in the economics of public service is becoming more and more one of the issues that really does matter for a lot of voters.
Yesterday, Karen Leibovici, my outgoing city councillor and one of the front runners in our mayoral race released her fundraising details and the list of all of her up-to-date campaign contributors. Our other mayoral hopeful, Don Iveson, has also committed to releasing his details next week.
I am not surprised by Ms. Leibovici's list of contributors (especially the corporate donors) and I suspect that Mr. Iveson's list will be quite similar (campaign contributions for certain kinds of companies are often seen as a general cost of doing business). The big question now is, how do I feel about Ms. Leibovici (or any candidate) now that I know who is "backing" her?
The answer to that is that I applaud her forthrightness in this regard and her willingness to show a level of transparency that has not been seen (in my voting lifetime) in municipal elections. I too look forward to others in this election following her lead. Do I also think this was a smart political move? Absolutely. This is an election people. EVERYTHING is a political move right now.
The one thing that this information hasn't done in regards to my vote or decision-making process is make me look at Ms. Leibovici with a sense of "oh, so THAT's who you are 'working' for" that many think this kind of disclosure inevitably leads to.
I am still an undecided voter in this municipal election and am looking forward to the next month of campaigning to hear more from all of the candidates. Is there going to be that one person that fits all my criteria and will be the perfect representative for ME, Citizen Natasha of Edmonton? No, of course not. That would be silly and unrealistic of me to expect that. What I do expect from my elected representative(s) is someone whose opinions and integrity are not for sale, who is a true representative for the people of Edmonton, who is willing to make decisions for our city that have sound backing and are forward thinking and who has a vision for our city that goes beyond, "fix the damn potholes" and let's all just sit back and watch us spread out like a BP oil spill (and we'll just fix it all later).
I want more from my political leaders and transparency is a BIG part of that. Is it too much to ask? Maybe. I guess in that way I am still a little bit enamoured with the spectacle of it all and not feeling quite as jaded as Russell was after that night at the GQ Awards:
We all know it, we already know all the important stuff, like: don't trust politicians, don't trust big business and don't trust the media. Trust your own heart and each other. When you take a breath and look away from the spectacle it's amazing how absurd it seems when you look back.
The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win
without proving that you are unworthy of winning.
~Adlai E. Stevenson