A cynic is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as, “a person who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honourable or unselfish reasons.” For the latter part of my teenage years I have proudly stood on the fence between cynicism and unbridled hope with regards to my perception of humanity. There are good people in this world who have the best interests of the masses at heart yet politics and the interests of the people have not always mixed. However, I believe that no other place in Canada is better suited to teaching people about humanity, the good, the bad, and the ugly, than our nation’s capital.
Living in Ottawa you either know someone or have been within sneezing distance of someone who works for the government. Bureaucracy is a constant and so is red tape. Watching the news in the morning and at night is a regular ritual for many families. I remember spending weekday mornings listening to the radio during my parents’ morning commute to work. That was when I was first exposed to politics and political games. I would hear my father voice his concern about politician’s sudden change of heart come election time or hear my mother discuss the impracticalities of one piece of legislation or another.
I don’t remember when I first decided that politics was a potential career path for me but it was probably also around the same time that I realized politics is a game. That’s not to say that I wanted to play the game, like many other bright-eyed bushy tailed youngsters I thought that I could help change the way the game was played. When I graduated from grade six I stated in my valedictory speech that my dream was to live at 24 Sussex, however as the years went by my opinions changed. My parents to their credit never steered me one way or the other. They have never declared an allegiance for one specific party probably because like most Canadians they find themselves unable to wholly agree with or support any of the three main parties. They worked within the public service sector of the federal government for a significant portion of their lives so they know how swiftly the tides can change federally.
They were the ones who taught me to take politics with a grain of salt and how to approach political issues cautiously so as not to close any doors or as I got older, bite the hand that could feed me so to speak. However, they also encouraged me to debate with them and others about issues that I felt needed to be discussed. Their only rule was that I had to be well-informed about both sides of the matter before I made my own argument. Living in Ottawa has certainly helped me become a more conscious and discerning consumer of information, particularly in terms of political propaganda and social media.
During high school a large majority of my friends donned orange in support of the NDP, especially when the late Jack Layton was the leader of the party, may he rest in peace. Layton was one of my political inspirations too and I remember being greatly saddened upon hearing news of his passing. It seemed that much of my hope for change in our political system had been too attached to one man and with his death my cynicism roared to life in full force. I am not alone in this; I know plenty of good, hardworking Canadians who have either chosen to pursue the road of apathy or cynicism with regards to our nation’s politics. I swear sometimes watching question period is like watching school children fight. It’s exhausting to think about trying to change what has been the norm for seemingly the past half century, give or take a few decades.
Ottawa is a government town. That’s how I tend to describe it to others because I am often unable to pinpoint another expression that can convey the depths to which politics permeates our city. It determines when we shop, what we buy, how much those purchases cost us, how we get home, how we pay for our education, and on and on it goes. From municipal to federal politics the people of Ottawa are constantly in the thick of things.
But we brush it off. We move on. A scandal in the morning is old news by lunch. I don’t think this is a cynical attitude – it isn’t even a survival technique, it’s just how we live in Ottawa. We’re used to bumping into the Mayor by the Rideau Canal or walking alongside our MP while out for a stroll downtown. It’s commonplace for us to see media out and around town chasing down a story or asking passersby for their opinions about the latest remark from a Cabinet Minister. We are used to the politics of our city. It makes us question, it makes us push for change against all of the odds, and it keeps us standing up for what we believe.
There’s an organized chaos to how our city works and it’s not necessarily something to be cynical about, I think in fact that this system is what gives me hope. Sure, we might be the first ones to feel the pressures of the oncoming federal election and we might get fed up hearing radio hosts dissect the latest speech by the leader of whichever party isn’t popular right now but at least we’re informed. In Ottawa it’s pretty difficult to be ignorant. And so, if this city breeds cynics at least they’re educated and at least they are informed; if they are not well, thank goodness we live in a country where we can voice our opinions.
NB: Last summer I snapped a photo of my panda at Parliament; it is pictured at the top of this piece. If that isn’t freedom of artistic expression – what is? And no, I was not making a comment on any political issues at the time when I took the photograph. I simply admired the contrast between the cold stone and my fluffy panda just as I appreciate the contrast that cynicism and hope bring to my personal political perspective.