Hot Off The Press
Well our esteemed moderator Susanna asks a question to which I wished I knew an easy answer.
First of all, while many have not tuned into this campaign, and others have complained that is about nothing, that is far from the truth.
The stakes are very high in this campaign. And more than one political party has put an ambitious agenda forward.
On the issue of climate change alone, we have ambitious plans from three parties in this election. Those plans, realistic or not, are meant to address an existential threat to the future of human life on the planet, so it is hard to conclude this campaign is about “nothing”. And that is just one of many issues raised in this campaign.
And while It won’t surprise Tausha, or anyone else, to hear me say that the Conservatives have essentially thrown in the towel on that issue — I would argue they are not even trying to make people think they have a serious plan — there are other issues that all parties are addressing in their own way.
Conservatives have focused on affordability, which is undeniably important and I believe is part of a fundamental problem in all industrialized countries today — that of income equality and the fact that the spoils of record economic growth here and elsewhere do not get shared widely and leave many of our citizens behind and struggling.
So, there are two big issues being addressed. But they are being addressed in a nasty cauldron of hate, more pronounced and visible to us because of social media. I would argue that the drift to the right by the Conservative Party, away from its history as a centre right party, has increased this. But, to be fair to them, that is not the only cause, and may just be a symptom.
There is a polarizing anger at those who would rule us, borne perhaps partly out of the notion that only elites are benefiting from the new economy, borne by disappointment in our leaders for not doing more, and exacerbated by the hatred of many for Prime Minister Trudeau and all that he represents.
Mix that altogether with the threats to part of our economy posed by a shift to renewable fuels and the regional tensions that involves, throw in some resentment at the changes and fear that follows from some foundational shifts going on in the areas of racial and gender equality, and you have a toxic stew on your hands.
Leaders like Trudeau, who are associated with one side of all of that debate, are bound to face the fury of those who push back against it.
There is no easy way to make this all improve, as we have seen it in U.S. elections, provincial elections and elections around the world.
Well, I’m going to push back on this line of questioning. This is election is not a nothingburger and nor has it been especially divisive.
This may turn out to be an important election, possibly the first one in Canadian history in which both the Conservatives and Liberals will not win more than one-third of the popular vote.
We had a false majority parliament and a 100% Harper-power government. Then we had a false majority parliament with a 100% Trudeau-power government. Both ended in deep disappointment.
In 2015 the Conservatives earned 32% support; that is about where they sit in the polls now. And after Trudeau’s split with Jody Wilson-Raybould, a pipeline purchase, a discovery of multiple blackface events and continuing litigation against Indigenous kids, the credibility of the Liberal party is very low.
Mr. Trudeau promised so much. Then he spent four years working for people at the very top, while people’s urgent needs grew more urgent. Rent. Transit and traffic. Cell service costs. Out-of-pocket medical costs. Trudeau’s priority was working for the rich and powerful, not the Canadian people. Trudeau hasn’t earned Canadians’ vote.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is personable and clear-spoken. He has great policy. But most important, he is tapping into the realization that Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau are more interested in a fight against each other for power than fighting to solve the problems Canadians face.
So, this is not a nothingburger. Widespread rejection of both the Liberals and Conservatives is not a nothingburger. It’s a verdict.
Now we will have a period of minority — and I am very confident that with whatever power Canadians give to Jagmeet Singh, he will be on an equal footing with the others, fighting to solve Canadians’ problems.
Unlike the Liberals and Conservatives, New Democrats aren’t in this to float in the flow of power. We want to improve people’s lives. It looks like Singh and his MPs will have some power to get some results — the chance to score some goals for Canadians.
I am also proud of my party and Canadians for accepting Jagmeet Singh with such love — it says a lot about us and our future, and that makes me very, very happy.
I think social media has exacerbated the toxicity in politics. You cannot have meaningful debate on social platforms, and for some reason social channels seem to bring out the worst behaviour in people.
I also think we have also entered a time in our society where heightened emotion is drowning out our ability to have conversations with each other. About anything, much less politics.
As people become increasingly critical of individual decision making, it appears the result is that people stop talking about their choices/decisions. I think this was clear during the last U.S. election — people stopped talking about whom they were going to vote for because they did not want to hear people’s opinions or be berated for making a particular choice.
I do agree with Richard that political parties are trying to put ideas out there. Campaign platforms are dense documents and with each election, there is an increasing amount of detail. But the problem is nobody takes the time to read them.
People want to know why politicians, of all stripes, use talking points: it’s because they are battling for people to pay attention for 10-15 seconds. That is hardly enough time to have a meaningful debate on anything.
Further, political parties should have a broad base of thinking and supporters with distinct perspective and histories — these varying experiences are what should shape good public policy.
But sharing individual perspective has become a scary business because of today’s climate. If someone questions the federal government’s approach on immigration, they are by default labeled as a racist. If someone suggests that governments could find program efficiencies, they are only interested in gutting public services. If someone feels the environment should be a priority, they are an out of touch city-diot. If someone wears a yellow vest, they are an extremist. The list goes on.
Tom’s sunny but relentless partisanship is impressive but doesn’t do much to shed any light on the question.
I agree this is not a nothing election. But who could blame the public for thinking sometimes that it is about nothing when parties fail to debate ideas in any way, but rather just throw polemics at each other?
Tom says Trudeau just worked for “people at the very top.” That is nonsense. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been swept out of poverty by the new Canada Child Benefit.
Wouldn’t we be better off if the NDP were arguing how to further improve that program, rather than denying it even happened? What about the vastly improved and increased Canada Pension Plan? Younger Canadians, those under 45 or so, who now face an economy where there isn’t secure employment for life, will see their pension almost double. Why wouldn’t the NDP champion a further expansion of that radical reform rather than pretend it didn’t happen?
He mentions a pipeline — that is true — that same pipeline that was championed by the best NDP Premier this country has seen in a long time? Is that the same one? And didn’t she agree to put a price on carbon in Alberta in response, as well agree to a hard cap on emissions? I could go on.
This is an election campaign and partisans want to get their messages off. But it doesn’t help when we are not debating issues and measures that might help Canadians but instead just screaming at each other with over the top sound bites.
So how do we get back to that? Is the world, and our country, too polarized to do so? I don’t know. I think Tausha is on to something when she says that we have entered a time where it has become more difficult to have conversations with each other about — anything, not just politics.
But I know this. If we made our discussions a little more respectful, that’d help. If we made our leaders debate in a format that allowed them to dig in a little more than 45 seconds each to explain their plan for climate change, that’d be good.
And if we stopped rewarding politicians for doing the things we say we don’t like — partisan excess, saying the other guy is corrupt, terrible, and a disgrace to the human race, if we made it more difficult for shadowy groups to motivate opinion on our social media with fake news character assassinations, maybe we’d get better behaviour. From most of us, anyway.
My Liberal and Conservative friends on this panel want to play up the idea this is a divisive campaign with a polarized electorate. But with five parties likely to elect MPs to the next Parliament, the evidence is Canadians are not polarized. They are disappointed and looking for alternatives.
It’s not the mass of Canadian people who are divisive — though I’d never argue there aren’t awful and nasty people out there. But they are a small group.
What drives division are the Liberal and Conservative parties. It’s what they’ve always done to maintain political control in Canada — using fear. But this time it’s not working.
On Wednesday Justin Trudeau was practically campaigning for Andrew Scheer, saying he was on the verge of winning government. But it’s not working because we all know the Conservatives are nowhere close to winning a majority — they’re only about where they were when they lost the last election.
But Trudeau needs to create the fear because he can’t win people’s vote on his record or promises. Fear of a Scheer majority is all Trudeau has. But this time people aren’t falling for it.
First, it would absolutely morally wrong to give Justin Trudeau a “strategic” vote as a reward for breaking his promise to end strategic voting through electoral reform.
Second, the last time people did a “strategic” vote, it didn’t turn out very well. Trudeau took their vote and used it to work for people at the very top, letting the urgent problems of Canadians grow more urgent. It didn’t work. People didn’t get what they needed.
Third, we can see Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are nowhere close to winning. And every day, his disapproval rating rises.
This time, Canadians aren’t accepting that they need to settle for less than what they deserve. Because what Canadians deserve is a government that works for them, trying to solve their problems. And they will only get that with Jagmeet Singh.
If local NDP candidates get enough votes, they will win. And if enough NDP MPs win, Jagmeet Singh will be our Prime Minister.
But whatever the result, with whatever power people give him, Jagmeet Singh will work to bring people together and solve the problems holding them back.
That’s not what Liberal and Conservatives want.
But tough. Jagmeet Singh doesn’t work for those guys — he wants to work for the Canadian people. And Canadians are responding to the message.
Realistically, the political arena is not the only place where nastiness is rearing its ugly head.
I think this is also an issue outside of politics — take bullying in schools as an example. Unfortunately, bullying is not a new phenomenon, but I do feel it has been aggravated and intensified by the rise of social media. Younger generations, in particular, rarely communicate in interpersonal ways — it is all online.
I think there needs to be a serious discussion, both inside and outside of politics, about why communication online has become so “nasty.”
This is a difficult topic and I have no clear answer, but I think it’s a good sign that we are at least sharing our perspectives in a respectful fashion.
Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance. He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. Tausha Michaud is a Conservative strategist who started her career working for the Ontario PC Party at Queen’s Park. She is a former Senior Advisor and Chief of Staff to the Honourable Erin O’Toole and is now a Director at McMillan Vantage Policy Group in Toronto. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist, columnist and a frequent commentator on national issues.