This post is part of the LRC’s 25 year anniversary project. We are asking our readers for the most influential Canadian books published in the last quarter century. For more information, click here.
Susan Delacourt’s Shopping for Votes is the most important book written on the changing nature of Canadian politics in the 21st century. She digs beneath the surface of personalities and events; beneath the institutional structures inherited from the past; beneath the visible process of government. Here she uncovers how new information technologies in concert with the latest tools of corporate marketing have transformed the ways in which governments are elected and manage public opinion. What Delacourt reveals is the accelerating commodification of politics. With the electorate deconstructed into ‘niches’ that can be micro-targeted, and issues reduced to ‘wedges’ that permit partisan manipulation of divisions, a subtle but insidious undermining of democracy has been set in motion. Delacourt presents the essence of this process as the transformation of citizens into consumers. Political parties of all ideological stripes compete with one another to win the marketing battle for consumer preference. The resulting degradation of democratic citizenship poses a serious challenge to the viability of the Canadian polity. If we are to escape this cul de sac, Delacourt’s careful and precise diagnosis will be the required foundation for finding a way out.
Reg Whitaker is a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus at York University and the recent co-author of Secret Service: Political Policing in Canada from the Fenians to Fortress America.