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Canada Should Be Smartening Up Instead of Dumbing Down

05/22/2013 05:43 EDT | Updated 07/22/2013 05:12 EDT
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Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper is introduced before speaking May 16, 2013 at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. AFP PHOTO/Don Emmert (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

Stephen Harper's Conservatives, like any other party, clearly want to take the next federal election. To do so, they are already falling back on the tried and true methods of mobilizing their base over issues that garner support. And negative ads will be the order of the day, even with an election perhaps more than two years out. To assure ultimate victory they are counting on us -- or rather the part of us that buries our minds and forces us into biased conclusions. Call it the "stupid factor." Only in politics can our money be used against that part of us that will eventually be turned off of the political class altogether and just not bother to vote. They're playing us to think "dumb."

No doubt it has proved a successful strategy. But times are changing, not just because Canadians follow the normal curve of growing tired of governments after a few years, but because average citizens are rousing from their slumber and reacting against being approached on such base levels.

The Prime Minister's personal poll numbers are receding (dropping almost by half since 2010), as are those of his government. Sensing the decline, the Conservatives have taken to their historic method of going negative, as with their recent attack ads on Justin Trudeau. Yet it's not working as effectively because Canadians themselves have faced too many negative indicators in the last five years -- growing poverty, no action on climate change, and unemployment that remains stubbornly high as the economy has been slow to rebound with better lives for average families. We all know it and at the periphery of our minds is this nagging sense that such challenges might have become the new normal. The Great Recession ended two years ago, but we remain mired in stasis.

So, while Conservatives respond in regular fashion with negativity, Canadians themselves have changed in what they are prepared to tolerate, and that reality could conceivably alter Canada's political landscape.

Citizens are growing tired of living in tough times while having their money dedicated to an endless array of Canadian Action Plan advertising. Worse still, the practice of mailing repeated waves of taxpayer-funded "ten per centers" into local ridings demonizing Justin Trudeau has begun the process of raising the ire of people who want their tax dollars spent on things that matter. I spoke with a 45-year old unemployed woman at a coffee shop recently who, after returning from a day of applying for work, collected her mail and grew furious at having received a second straight such ten per center. Her response was indicative. She slammed both pieces of paper on the table, saying, "I'm trying to feed my two kids and I don't need this crap -- especially since I paid for it. Is there anything you can do to stop it?"

My response was that I couldn't, but that we can. In fact, that process has already started, with negative responses to pollsters and a lengthening list of letters to the editor and Internet agitation saying that enough is enough. Conservative Minister Peter Penshue's response to his Labrador election loss that constituents had a chance to "vote for the cabinet table," but chose instead to "be in the opposition," showed again the Conservative mindset that says they're smarter than everyone else. It apparently didn't dawn on Penshue, given all his financial irregularities, that Labrador voters simply opted for honesty instead of power.

Conservatives respond to this is one of two ways. A growing number remain embarrassingly silent, or they say that the Liberals used to do the same thing. Sadly, they are right. But then again, no other party has turned such negativity into such an art form, and the constant wearing down of the public spirit by such debased practices is ironically having its own negative reaction on the governing party.

In believing that we are stupid, the government is implying they are smart, and that's just not something a growing number of Canadians are prepared to accept. We are entering a new era of austerity and the last thing we want is a government dumbing us down when at the same time they are professing we should tighten up. The ultimate outcome of this wave of professional negativity is not yet guaranteed, but Canadians are beginning to fight back against a practice that continually divides us at the exact time we need to pull together to face a challenging future.