Pity the poor pundits this ridiculously long election season.
The election-industrial complex has never revved this hot for so long, and some of its practitioners are starting to show the strain from feeding the 24-hour news beast. As time wears on two conflicting and equally erroneous themes are front and centre, each making their own unfortunate contribution to the campaign murk.
The first is the attempt to make small differences seem big. You know the horserace prognostications have gone a bit far when, on the front page of National Newswatch, three separate polls are simultaneously featured with headlines: “NDP out in front as Conservatives trail in third”, “Conservatives take narrow lead” and “Voters in favour of Liberals’ economic plan.” Layer on top of this the daily tracking polls and, I mean really, why not just install electrodes in all of our foreheads to capture – and spin – every fleeting thought? On the policy front, much has been made of the alleged differences between the NDP and Liberal approaches to infrastructure spending when in fact both parties are proposing to spend similar amounts over somewhat varying time periods. The Liberal commitment to run a deficit is in policy terms, therefore, a pointless distraction.
The second tendency — and, weirdly, polar opposite of the first — is the attempt to erase differences even when they’re clear. Let’s call this the “making molehills out of mountains” approach. Examples of this include resident curmudgeon Rick Salutin’s decades-old refrain that it doesn’t really matter who gets elected. Michael den Tandt’s puzzling apprehension from last week’s debate of a “dizzying ideological concurrence of all three major federal parties.” And the conclusion by some signatories of the recent Leap Manifesto that the climate change positions of the various political parties are not appreciably different.
To all of this, I say: wait, what?
The NDP wants to create a new universal childcare programme and get rid of the Senate. The Liberals and Conservatives reject the former and would keep the latter.
The NDP is opposed to C-51. The other two parties voted in favour of it.
The NDP and Liberals would invest similar amounts in infrastructure, the Tories would not.
The Parties’ climate change plans could not be more dissimilar: The Conservatives don’t really have one; the Liberals have yet to release a carbon target; and the NDP and Greens have set out significant ideas for pollution reduction. Contrary to what the Leap Manifesto-ites would have us believe, ambition is on offer.
I could go on. And on. But you get the picture. Let’s remind ourselves that the political parties are offering diverse choices this election season.
Though the constant spinning of basically unchanging polling results is annoying, I’m not sure it’s corrosive to the democratic process. On the other hand, the notion that it doesn’t matter who we elect is not only factually inaccurate, it does Canadians a disservice.
Over the past nine years an important part of the Conservative project has been to reduce participation in elections: restricting Election Canada’s ability to do outreach and education; making it harder for students and others to vote; and an outright disenfranchising of entire groups like Canadian expats. Diminishing the importance of voting just feeds this trend. In fact, the only people who benefit from electoral nihilism are Conservatives, who have a vested interest in turning people off politics thereby keeping them home on election night.
Pretending that all politicians and party platforms are the same or shades of gray is also unfair to the many progressive community leaders running in this – and other elections — who are trying their damndest to actually make a difference.
Luckily, my strong sense is that most Canadians understand this election is close and are downright excited to cast an optimistic ballot for change this Oct. 19th. I know I am.
We’ll be bringing our young kids to the polling station, waiting our turn in line, all the while answering their many questions about the importance of voting: that most decisive and powerful of collective actions. I hope – in future years – they’ll look back fondly on that autumn night when Canada found its way again.
Rick Smith is Executive Director of the Broadbent Institute.