"An election is no time to discuss serious issues."
That is how a reporter summarized then-Prime Minister Kim Campbell's poorly-received pontification about the relatively short writ of Canadian elections. Campbell's observation was widely derided in 1993, but many political observers later reconsidered their knee-jerk dismissal of Campbell's quip -- most agree now that it was spot on.
Kim Campbell's first and only prime-ministerial campaign lasted almost seven weeks. Those faithful 47 days were not enough, she claimed, to discuss the overhaul in social policy that Canada needed.
The election call is expected this week. Perhaps Stephen Harper's unusually long campaign writ might rectify Kim Campbell's bone of contention... and others' too. To that end, here is a list of problematic issues an 11-week election writ might address or even resolve.
- The writ is enough time for the voting public to grapple with list of ballot box questions, complex policy issues.
With almost three months of campaigning and its associated media coverage, Harper's electoral calendar offers voters much needed additional time to read, digest and evaluate the subtle nuances in the policies and promises offered by each party. If the media does its job, reporters will go further than the inevitable soundbites, bypass the bumper sticker quips, and offer sound comparison analysis on a plethora of issues, not just the handful of ballot questions which a traditional 30-something day campaign allows. Harper's long writ is a victory for the busy voter.
- Dismal electoral participation from the youth vote.
The voter turnout among young Canadians has been a concern for over a decade. The youngest voter cohort has hovered around 37 per cent turnout since 2004. The list of lame excuses runs the gamut, but some suffrage challenges are legitimate. The labour of obtaining a special ballot while a student is pursuing a post-secondary education away from home is indeed a hassle. Harper's gift of a summer writ allows young people, most of whom are students, to find time to vote in their home ridings before the school bells start ringing, and again at the Thanksgiving break.
- Limited face time between voters and their local candidates.
Politicos know that reaching voters is most effective when it is done in-person. Telephone calls, commercial ads and pamphlets play a role in swaying voters, but by far, the most effective political tool is a candidate who looks a voter squarely in the eyes and
begsasks for their constituent's support. Unfortunately, a 30-something day election cycle makes it impossible anyone to canvass 50,000 to 100,000 electors in person. According to Campaign Sick's Nancy Leeds, a door-to-door canvass can yield 15-25 doors per hour, or 200 doors a in an 8-hour day. Hypothetically, a candidate can reach 15,000 doors in 78 days, up 210 per cent from approximately 7,400 doors reached in a 37-day writ. By lengthening the writ, PM Harper is giving candidates of all stripes an opportunity to face electors and engage them.
- Election coverage and punditry focuses on mainstream issues; no time to address minority voter issues.
When an election cycle lasts four weeks, politicians and journalists focus on a handful of perceived "ballot box questions"-- the issues which the mainstream media determines are most important to the largest swath of voters. This restriction often leaves out pivotal grievances of francophone Canadians and the so-called "ethnic vote." By alleviating the time-crunch, PM Harper might inadvertently mend the media's diversity deficit by offering a window to welcome new voices into the fold. Although the CBC is off to a monochromatic start to its election coverage with successiveall-white panels and analysts, one hopes that, by week eight or nine, the public broadcaster might exhaust their usual
suspectssources and seek out alternate the points of view from Aboriginals, visible minorities, and francophone Canadians. Cumulatively, these underrepresented groups represent at least a quarter of the Canadian population, and their under-reported electoral concerns could be covered in the national dialogue thanks to Harper's elongated writ.
Despite the whining by self-interested elites which has dominated the national discourse thus far, there is a silver lining to an extended writ. For many Canadians, it is a prime-ministerial present. Whatever your political stripe, take advantage of this extra time to make your vote matter.
Election day is October 19, 2015.
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