October 14th of this year is my birthday -- and five days later, a less important national event will also be occurring -- our 42nd Canadian Federal election. Elections are charming things -- almost religious -- as they seem to involve the invocation of a kind of faith that the media and many in the political class appear to have in ordinary voters.
Faith: the belief in something based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
For example, it appears to be an article of faith that voters pay any attention whatsoever to local candidates -- and a related article of faith, that "star candidates" have star power. Stars, in a galactic sense, are an interesting phenomenon, as the light we see from them was emitted long ago. For all we know, the star whose light we are observing died before we were born -- it's light merely an illusion of its current health.
The Orange wave that swept the NDP into power during our last federal election occurred with virtually no one knowing who their local NDP candidates were (a great favour to the NDP, who could have ran a slate of Cats, Dogs and Ponies in that election and I suspect, won regardless). "Star candidates" are useful only when they are a bigger "star" in a riding than the leader of their party -- and infrequently indeed, does this occur.
Our current election sees once more a plethora of "Star candidates" that normal Canadians know nothing about -- and their victory or defeat will have nothing to do with the very little light that these stars emit. The reality is that most people cannot name their local Member of Parliament and were they to meet, would forget their name within 20 minutes as most are as charismatic as a wine cork -- but lacking the pleasure that comes with pulling a wine cork, as you know you will in short order be drinking wine.
It also appears to be an article of faith that Canadian voters care deeply about "issues", "issues" like "controversial" legislation. In few places has this this article of faith been repeated as fervently as with discussion over Bill C-51 (the Anti-Terrorism Act) or Bill C- 24 (the Canadian Citizenship Act). The former is purportedly an election issue because it restricts our privacy rights while the latter is an issue because it strips some people of Canadian Citizenship (in the interest of brevity, these are petty synopses). Both of these pieces of legislation are important and involve weighty issues -- certainly, but are they affecting voting patterns in a meaningful way?
No -- people who were planning on voting for Stephen Harper will not refrain from doing so because of this legislation and the shift between NDP and Liberal voters was bound to occur regardless of this issue's introduction. Outside the concentric circles of voters who are not quite average yet forever perceive themselves as being so, most Canadians have only the most vague (at best) idea what Bill C-51 or Bill C-24 are about, and if put to the question could not accurately repeat a single provision of either. Sure -- they may have an opinion on either Bill, but their opinion will be based on vagaries and general impressions, couched largely in their preconceived notions of each federal leader and their political inclinations.
Canadians will be voting locally based on whom they want to be Prime Minister. "Policies" are largely irrelevant, despite what a mistaken IPSOS poll suggests (of course those asked if they are voting based on "personality" or "issues" will say the latter as the former is embarrassing and many are oblivious to the role their perception of the personality of each leader has affected their acceptance of important facts).
Psychology in times such as ours cannot be overridden: there is no war in which our men and women are being drafted; there is no great economic depression (though we may be in recession) -- and in such times, personality politics will dominate. This election is not about change -- this election is about trust. Who do Canadians trust to shepherd our country though what may be a coming turbulence? The answer to that question, for most Canadians, will determine with whom they vote. See you at the polls -- wish me a belated happy birthday.
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