Election coverage can be dominated by horserace coverage, who is ahead, who is in third place, how close the race is. There are polls, a lot of polls, daily polls, aggregates of polls, seat forecasts. There is a value in knowing the nuts and bolts of a campaign, the kind of messaging -- "spin" more cynically -- that goes on. There is also some value to knowing where the parties stand in popular support. Though for all the talk of image, of the latest attack ad, of polls, do the actual issues get obscured?
What about the future of this country? Young people struggling to establish themselves in careers, the climate change crisis, Canada's tarnished foreign image, the suppression of science by Stephen Harper's government. What about the desire by many in the public for politicians who speak from the heart, genuinely address the concerns of Canadians?
One cannot blame any individual politician -- many of them are people with a strong sense of public service -- but there is an environment where politics has become too focus group driven, too much about the "gaffe of the day" where politicians end up seeming too rehearsed with carefully crafted talking points.
On youtube, one can view the 1968 leaders debate featuring Robert Stanfield for the Progressive Conservatives, Pierre Trudeau for the Liberals, and Tommy Douglas for the NDP, all three leaders who have rightly earned an esteemed place in Canadian history. One notices that many of the superficial aspects of image did not feature as much in this debate. Also, inequality was a central concern of all party leaders. Furthermore, there seemed to be something more genuine and authentic about the party leaders, who were speaking it seemed from the heart rather than reciting carefully crafted slogans.
The politics of the 1960s seemed to present more space for conviction and belief.
Of course, it is easy to get overly nostalgic, something debunked by the section of the debate on homosexuality. Also, all the leaders were middle-aged white males (mind you the same is true in many 2015 debates where Green Party leader Elizabeth May was excluded).
So what is the 2015 election all about?
Stephen Harper is campaigning on fear, using the niqab as a wedge issue scapegoating Muslims. It is no coincidence that a senior adviser on the Conservative campaign is an Australian strategist known for dogwhistle politics against cultural minorities. This is an attack on a longstanding consensus in Canadian politics in favour of multiculturalism and diversity, a consensus that had been upheld by the Liberals, NDP, and Progressive Conservatives such as Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark (multiculturalism as a stand-alone ministry was established by Mulroney).
On the international stage, Canada is a climate change pariah and seen as supporting the militaristic approach of George W. Bush who had been rejected south of the border, no doubt reasons why Canada was denied a seat on the security council. Canada's peace-keeping commitment, a priority of Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments in the past, has been greatly reduced under Harper. Where Canada was once a leader now it is 68th among 193 UN member states.
Furthermore, there has been a war on science with a muzzling of federal government scientists from presenting the findings of their research. Also there was the cancelling of the mandatory long-form census which has made the 2011 census in large part useless for researchers. David Hulchanski, of the University of Toronto, saw his groundbreaking research on urban poverty stopped in its tracks because of inadequate 2011 census data (one example of the destructive effects of this policy).
These are some of the issues at stake in this election.
On the Liberal-NDP side, there is an interesting race to be the main alternative to Harper which, if recent polls are indicating a trend (yes, I'm talking about polls!), shows the Liberals to be coming out ahead. Each party is trying to prove who is best to defeat Harper, who is less like Harper, and who is the genuinely progressive alternative. The NDP has hit the Liberals on their vote for Harper's Bill C-51, which inhibits civil liberties (and which was an ill-advised move by the Liberals). Meanwhile, the Liberals have hit the NDP on promoting fiscal austerity with their pledge to balance the budget in the first year of their mandate (which could be seen as an ill-advised move when investment with reasonable deficits can stimulate a shaky economy).
Of course with all this Liberal-NDP fighting (there is a volatile vote between the two) the ultimate goal, defeating Harper, should not be forgotten (full disclosure, I have been helping the Liberal candidate in my riding).
A few words on the Green Party, which is of particular interest to me as I live in the second provincial riding in Canada (Fredericton-South) to elect a Green representative. In my federal riding of Fredericton, there is a sizeable Green Party organization which makes this election an interesting one. On climate change (one of the leading challenges of our century) and establishing a sustainable economy (which presents opportunities for innovation and growth) the Green Party has been on the leading edge and been a valuable voice. A strong "jobs jobs jobs" message, emphasizing the benefits and opportunities of a green economy, would be a benefit to the Green campaign and be an example of the valuable voice they present.
Furthermore, Harper's almost single-minded emphasis on the Alberta oilsands has contributed to a tarnishing of Canada's reputation on the World stage.
This is an important election, one that could fundamentally determine the direction and reputation of our country, one where we have an electoral system that can unfortunately reward a party with less than 40 per cent of the vote with a majority, where the Harper Conservatives can brazenly disregard 60 per cent of the electorate. It is an election about multiculturalism versus the politics of division, evidence-based policy versus suppression of science, and taking advantage of the opportunities of a sustainable economy.
It is long past time for Harper to go.
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