Professional hockey is back, and so is the idea that being Canadian and being a hockey fan are the exact same thing, synonymous and inseparable. This time last year though, there was no pro-hockey, and no one had any idea when there might be hockey. People were ticked, but that anger went away pretty quick when the millionaire athletes they both loved and hated finally took to the ice.
No place was that more true than a few miles down the road in Toronto, where Maple Leaf worship is devote and absolute, yet with far fewer miracles required to placate the faithful. In fact, Toronto is coming up on nearly half a century without a championship, and as teams in the United States, some of whom are recent champions, struggle to fill arenas, the Leafs remain the NHL's most profitable team. Actually, they're a quarter of a billion dollars more profitable than the number two team, the New York Rangers.
So what does any of this have to do with politics? Well, I would argue that fans of the Maple Leafs don't get a lot of return on their annual investment of $1 billion; no Stanley Cup in 46 years, one playoff bearth in 10, and even then they were put it out in the first round. It seems that if you're a Maple Leafs fan, you've not only come to expect a lot of disappoint, but you've become comfortable with the fact that you're going to get it. It sort of reminds me a lot of politics.
In the U.S. right now, politicians are debating whether or not to shut the government down unless President Barack Obama consents to approving a bunch of Tea Party policies in a maneuver that most practically-minded conservatives think is too much to demand from a president who just last year was re-elected with firm majority. (Not to mention the fact that you have people basically holding the government and the economy hostage based on ideology.) Now Congress has one of the lowest approval ratings of any group of people aside from neo-Nazis and Twi-hards, the often quoted figure being 9 per cent approval. The dilemma is that approval ratings for the respondents' local Congressman is very high, so while people loathe Congress, they love their local member of Congress, forever forgetting that their man in the House is 1/435th of the problem.
Closer to home we have a similar dilemma. In Ontario, our political parties are jockeying for an election that seems to be constantly on its way, yet never finds itself finally coming to fruition. Approval ratings constantly rank NDP leader Andrea Horwath high, while PC leader Tim Hudak comes in low. The trend is inverted with the parties themselves, the PCs usually come out a few percentage points on top, with the NDP coming up in third. The Liberals and leader Kathleen Wynne place somewhere in between, gaining or losing as per the latest notes on the varying scandals. The point though, is that despite the dysfunction and Question Period temper tantrums, voters like the current status quo, or are happy enough to not want to press for immediate change.
Part in parcel with that is the record low voter turnout in the last provincial election, more than half the people that could have voted, didn't. But low voter turnout is a cross the board trend in our democracy, and locally barely a third came out and cast ballots in the 2010 municipal election in Guelph. Voter turnout in Federal elections typically does better, but two out of five eligible voters stayed at home on Election Day 2011.
So what does this have to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs? Simple, people love to complain about how government runs, as they do with the Leafs, but they never voice their displeasure, in politics at the ballot box, or with the Leafs by refusing to support the team by not buying tickets or watch the games on TV. Political parties know that a certain percentage of people don't vote and will never vote. They count on your apathy, and Leaf's management knows that people will support the team no matter how many times they miss the playoffs, and no matter what exorbitant price they charge for seats at the Air Canada Centre. Some are fuelled by the turnover of seasons and sessions, the promise that this time will different and you'll get everything you want, but in the end, as in politics, one ends up bitter and disappointed.
The kicker, on both counts, is not that people don't care, but they seem fine with never having expectations met. Politicians will let you down, the Leafs will not make the playoffs, nothing will change so why even try. Or worse still, people are deluded into thinking that change is real despite the numerous letdowns that happened before. Did not the current federal Conservative government promise to be more accountable, and more transparent. Did they not promise to reform the senate, curb spending, and provide the best stewardship possible of our democratic institutions?
Until we demand change, we will not get change. But people are so afraid that in the process of getting the change they want, they'll lose what they have, so the system is forever gridlocked by those who get just enough support to keep doing what their doing because people may always say they want better, but they're never prepared to do anything about it, and they're never prepared to risk anything to get it. And as long as everybody agress that doing nothing is the best policies, our great expectations will remain just that.