Winston Churchill really knew how to turn a phrase. And back in 1947 during a speech in the House of Commons, one of the most celebrated politicians of the 20th century delivered one of his best known.
"Democracy is the worst form of government," Churchill said.
In the midst of this current byelection — characterized as it is with secret recordings, a surprise candidate, a defection, and a considerable amount of anger — this statement likely resonates strongly with voters in Sudbury.
But it's the second part of that quote that I want to focus on, because it's the real crux of what Churchill was trying to say 68 years ago.
"Democracy is the worst form of government," he said, "except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Like many of you, perhaps, I've watched the twists and turns of this byelection with a mixture of amusement and dismay — amusement because Liberal party brass in Toronto have meddled into Sudbury campaigns twice in less than a year and suffered the consequences both times; dismay because I see a generally good politician harmed by some unfortunate decisions and the campaign become about the Andrew Olivier tapes scandal instead of about the issues.
And there's a lot of anger out there because of these tapes. Moderating the comments on NorthernLife.ca on these stories has been a real challenge
As a media outlet, covering the story has not been an easy thing. With so many politicians visiting, so many ideas being thrown around and so much emotion tied to it all, we had to fight at times to keep our perspective, to stay grounded.
Because, like you, we live here and we vote here. The challenge has been to present all sides without judgment — which, admittedly, has been tough at times.
The recordings may have angered many of us, and they may have reinforced our inherent distrust of politics, but did they really tell us anything we didn't already know? Is there anything on them that should make us trust our elected representatives any less than we already do?
I would argue no.
We already knew politics can get icky and we already distrust our politicians — rightly so. Blind faith and politics is a bad combination. We already knew politics functions on the principle of "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine." That's horse-trading. That's the give and take.
I'm not saying this to downplay the impact of the tapes (no one could argue that), but to argue the byelection should be about the issues facing Sudbury — and which candidate and which party are best equipped to tackle them — not anger over how Liberal Party brass stuck their nose into the nomination process.
Voting out of anger or frustration only results in bad government. When Bob Rae and the NDP swept to power in Ontario in 1990, no one was voting for Bob Rae. They were voting out of anger at David Peterson's self-serving decision to call an election just three years into his mandate.
It was a reactionary, not a reasoned, vote. And Ontario was saddled with a poor leadership for five years. And those five years led to another reactionary election that brought us Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution, a period of government that still polarizes opinion in this province.
We punished Peterson for his opportunism, when he was the guy best equipped for the job, no offence to Bob Rae. We then punished Rae and in return got Harris.
However I feel about the Olivier tapes — and I feel pretty strongly about them — I'm not basing my vote on them. Some people might find Olivier's candor refreshing in politics (I personally don't), but the tapes are just a distraction, an effective one if you're Andrew Olivier and a welcome one if you're Suzanne Shawbonquit, but a distraction nonetheless.
And I think there's something important to remember here before we grab our pitchforks, light the torches and march to the castle gates — it would be naive to think the Liberals are the only party engaging in this kind of backroom deal-making.
Don't take this as a defence of the Grits; it isn't. It's just a fact. Next time, it could be the NDP or the Conservatives who get caught negotiating with a candidate. For all their moralistic podium-pounding about how unethical the Liberal Party is, the opposition plays the same game.
No, I'm putting aside my feelings about how we got here and giving my vote to the candidate who I feel is the best politician, the one I think can get the most government money flowing into this city, the one who I feel has the strength of personality and the sense of purpose to get the job done for an individual constituent or for the entire Sudbury riding.
In other words, I'm doing my damndest to vote with my head, not my heart. As unpalatable an option as that might seem right now.