Are we polarized, or are those in the centre just complacent? In a 2021 survey of Canadians by the Environics institute, 17 per cent of Canadians place themselves as being far right, ideologically; 16 per cent are far left; and 67 per cent of Canadians laid claim to being centrist — centre left to centre right. These numbers seem to align with what we claim as a country. So where are the voices of the 67 per cent of centrists in all things media, rhetoric, and voting?
In a recent survey on Linkedin, it was asked what percentage of a leader's platform respondents would accept as different before they decided not to vote for them. No one suggested they need to agree with 100 per cent of a platform. Seven per cent of respondents said they need to agree with 90 per cent; 66 per cent said they would support a platform they 80-per-cent agreed with; and 28 per cent of the folks said they would support a leader when they only agreed with 51 per cent of their platform.
The voices I hear loudest are the dissenting opinions — the folks who identify an issue they disagree with, attach a position to a leader, and then decide they dislike that leader based on that one issue. That dislike is then attached to each and every item that leader speaks on. We have become so quick to judge on one single issue that elections become who we dislike the least, not who we believe in the most. It is a negative approach that is causing a loss of belief in the democratic process. One psychologist explained it as "king killing" — we elevate people into leadership positions so we can get a better shot at them.
The word "democracy" comes from the Greek words "demos," meaning people, and "kratos," meaning power. A democracy, at least in theory, is government on behalf of all the people. The problems arise when we consider how the principles can be put into practice, because we need a mechanism for deciding how to address conflicting views without condemning the messenger.
I am convinced the solution to so many of the divisions and challenges in our society can be addressed if we develop the mindset of Victor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Stephen Covey referenced this in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, and followed with a habit of, "Seek first to understand before being understood." We need to listen with an open mind — a simple but extremely difficult habit to develop.
We are entering a year that will have a significant impact on the future of Alberta. Do we have a democracy? Are the 67 per cent of society who lay claim to being centrist willing to let the extremes decide our future? Or is it time for us to get off the couch, get involved, and make our voices heard? Polarized or complacent? Time will tell.
John Liston is the vice-president of Alberta Enterprise Group, and a St. Albert resident active in our business and charity communities.