By-elections and Marshall McLuhan’s Light Bulb

By-elections are like McLuhan’s light bulb.

Marshall McLuhan, an Edmontonian who predicted the World Wide Web 30 years before it was invented, wrote books with evocative titles like The Mechanical Bride and The Gutenberg Galaxy, but none is more famous that his best-seller, The Medium is the Message.

Recognizing that no one had a clue what that phrase meant, McLuhan used the example of a light bulb.*

Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan pointed out that a light bulb, unlike say, a newspaper, has no content, and yet it has a social effect. When it is clicked on it allows people to interact in spaces that would otherwise be blanketed in darkness. McLuhan said that “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.”*

By-elections are like McLuhan’s light bulb.  They are a flash of light in the political environment.

The writ drops, the switch goes on and the voters in the affected riding have an opportunity to choose a new MLA in mid-election cycle. They are urged to send the government a message by ousting the government’s candidate and replacing him/her with a member of one of the opposition parties.

Some voters interpret the phrase “send a message” to mean punish the government by sending in its worst enemy (here in Alberta that would be the Wildrose). While this may feel good for a nanosecond (“so there!”), voters need to consider whether they’re simply cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

Instead of sending a message that could easily be misconstrued by the PC government (and the Wildrose for that matter) as validation of their view that Albertans are moving further to the right, it makes sense to send a more thoughtful message: one that reflects a common desire to protect and strengthen public services like education and healthcare and recognizes the need for a long term energy strategy which incorporates a desire to protect the environment.

It’s the only way to stop the PC government from continuing its slide to the Wildrose right.

If you’re one of the lucky voters who resides in the ridings of Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West, Calgary-Elbow or Edmonton-Whitemud, what message will you be sending to the PC government on Oct 27th?  A message of light…or more darkness?


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12 Responses to By-elections and Marshall McLuhan’s Light Bulb

  1. Jim Lees says:

    Susan, this reminds me of a question from my youth:

    Where does the light go when the light goes out?

    I’m still navel-gazing over that….

    I hope your campaign is going well. Regards,


    Sent from my iPhone


    • Jim, how poetic. In my experience the light may dim for a brief spell but it will come back on with renewed energy. (Wow, maintaining this “light” metaphor is a little tricky first thing on Monday morning…never mind you get the drift).

  2. Carl Hunt says:

    Susan, If I was in your riding, I’d vote Liberal but maybe in the other corners of Alberta, the voters need a wake up, even if it’s the Tea Party that turns on the light. Preferably one of the old fashioned incandescent bulbs that burns out in about two years.

  3. Carl Hunt says:

    I hear you and agree. I’m mainly aware of environmental impacts of ‘agencies’ but Albertans have not heard the govt mantra to civil servants to ‘get out of the way of business’ and have ignored the reorganize, downsize, outsource and privatize, actions starting with the Klein years.
    I have no support for the Tea party and hope Susan, Dr Swan etc. can at least open the blinds and let in the sun.

    • Carl, the PC government’s mantra about getting out of the way of business demonstrates an appalling lack of understanding of the role of government. According to Adam Smith, one of the roles of government is to limit the excesses of capitalism (ie. business). Jim Prentice continually describes “his” government in business terms, proudly boasting that “we’re under new management”. He uses “new management” as an excuse to distance himself from the bad decisions of his predecessors. Well guess what. The “new management” excuse doesn’t fly in business (new CEOs are expected to clean up the mistakes of their predecessors) and it certainly doesn’t fly with a government that’s been in power for 43 years.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan I fully agree with you. These mantras were used very effectively to get us where we are now. For extreme right wing people like the conservatives now in power, this is a great place to be but unfortunately they forgot that the majority of center-right Canadians are not this extremist and for the rest of us progressives, this is abhorrent to say the least. It is time that we start forcing the language back to where it is supposed to be and call a government by what it is. We are not a business and I am not a consumer. I am a citizen and I live under the umbrella of the Alberta Government and one level up under the Canadian Government. Correcting this language goes a long way to at least pass on to our kids that we are not a corporation making profits on everyone’s backs to give it by the billions to other corporate interests. Our natural resources do not belong to the corporations that so kindly give us the crumbs of their profits which they transfer out of the country as soon as possible. This is not the way to run a country. Our natural resources belong to all of us that live and work here. It is up to us to decide what to do with them and how much we think it is appropriate to develop them in face of environmental consequences. Harper and Mafia in Ottawa have tried hard and won, changing our minds to be just puppets on a pseudo democracy that they massaged to serve their masters, but that is not the way it has to be. It is up to us to change that and it is up to us to change this doctrine in our minds and in our day to day activities so that we can kick them and their masters out before it is too late. We have an educated society and we can run this province way more efficiently and productively with our own skills and without having to be
        intimidated by economic bullies.
        Enough is enough – DO NOT VOTE PC ever again. It is just more of the same.

  4. Rose MacKenzie-Kirkwood says:

    The problem, I find with people in general, is they like to make blanket statements like all politicians are crooked. By saying this they have given themselves an excuse to not vote. I can honestly say that I have, in previous BC elections, not liked the candidate in my riding that is running for my preferred political party. One person does not necessary define a political party and may not appear to be a strong presence. The ideas and concepts of the party are the important issues. The person representing those ideas is but one piece of the puzzle, we need to work on the entire puzzle to complete the picture.

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    That would be true if we had Proportional Representation, but with the current system it is not.
    I have voted every single Federal and Provincial elections and my vote never made any difference whatsoever.

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