Ontario seems to be heading into one of the most polarized provincial elections in years. For more and more voters, the choice they make on June 7 is going to be between good and evil.
For some, it’s about voting for Doug Ford, the ordinary person’s champion, who will respect our tax dollars and get government off our backs. By voting for him you will help defeat the most dangerous woman in Canada (according to the Toronto Sun) and her band of spendthrift, corrupt, elites. You will also be able to stick it to her supporters. People who want government to solve all their problems, don’t understand business and look down on average Ontarians.
Others will choose Kathleen Wynne and her progressive, inclusive, vision for Ontario. By voting for her, you can ensure that some bombastic clown doesn’t bring his own version of Trumpism to Ontario by implementing a basket of retrograde, misogynistic policies. And you can stick it to his supporters, a pack of undereducated yahoos whose ignorance about government and public policy is staggering.
It’s kind of appealing in its simplicity.
If you are a political operative, you can work with a ballot question that asks whether you are with the “good guys” or the “bad guys.”
Journalists love it. Conflict makes for great news coverage and the simplicity of the story makes it easy to tell.
Even the NDP could find it useful. Fatigued voters might adopt a “pox on both your houses” approach to the Liberal-P.C. fight and see the third party as the source of goodness and light.
And deep down, I think voters like it. Not only does it make for an entertaining campaign, but voting is easy – just decide who is good and send a strong message to that horrible crowd supporting the bad team.
If everyone is happy, should anyone care?
Yes, because a polarized campaign undermines democracy and allows both politicians and voters to escape their respective responsibilities.
Think about it.
Political parties have a responsibility to present a vision for the province that is as comprehensive and as specific as possible. And the first group that should hold them accountable for that vision is not those that oppose them, it’s their supporters. Conservatives need to challenge Doug Ford, Liberals, Kathleen Wynne and New Democrats, Andrea Horwath. They need to ensure that their side’s policies make sense, address the true needs of Ontarians and don’t simply pander to the loudest voices.
And to hold their side fully accountable and make an informed decision, citizens also have a responsibility to respect and understand the perspective of the other side.
First, because as fellow citizens they deserve to be part of the conversation. Who knows, they might even make a few valid points.
And second, the only way to understand completely the needs of our province is to see it from the perspective of the other side. If you want to understand minimum wage, for example, you have to think about it from both the viewpoint of a struggling worker as well as a small business person trying to keep their head above water.
Unfortunately, battles of good versus evil don’t allow time for such niceties, particularly when we view the other side as a bunch of yahoos or elitists. As a result, political parties can avoid the tough questions, present slogans instead of policies and, as with the candidate Pedro in the movie Napoleon Dynamite, simply promise that if elected, all your wildest dreams will come true.
And what about governing after such an election?
Remember governing? It’s the thing that elections are supposed to be about yet in my experience, the last thing political parties consider as they try to win at all costs. And yet, how can a government effectively implement policy and rally citizens behind a cause when a recent campaign has labelled a significant portion of Ontarians either stupid or corrupt. In the current climate, how many Ontarians that fail to see their party achieve power on June 7 are going to say that they nevertheless respect the choice of the electorate and will support their new Premier?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Although it is far too late to change the overall dynamic of the campaign, we can all do our part. Instead of vilifying the other side, consider the world from their perspective, examine your own side with a critical eye and never be afraid to ask both sides tough questions.
And remember the words of Justin Trudeau. Although he may be out of favour with many these days, he had some wise advice before the last election. He told his supporters that those that voted for the other party weren’t “an angry mob to be feared.” They weren’t their enemies, they were their neighbours.
John Milloy is a former MPP and Ontario Liberal cabinet minister currently serving as the director of the Centre for Public Ethics and assistant professor of public ethics at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, and the inaugural practitioner in residence in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Political Science department. He is also a lecturer in the University of Waterloo’s Master of Public Service Program. John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @John_Milloy. This column was originally published in the online publication QP Briefing.