This is a Listen Up! guest post by Sally Barnes
I will celebrate when the voting results finally come in sometime this coming week—not because of the victory of any particular party but because it will be so good to have this election over.
I can remember and have participated in many, many elections but none in memory has been as frustrating and disappointing as this one.
I consider it a folly and a pretty costly one at that.
I mean costly not just in financial terms but what it has done to foster contempt at a time when cynicism and downright anger are already at dangerous levels in our society.
It has been an election shrouded in fear.
People are scared—scared for their health and their lives and those of their family and friends, scared their jobs or businesses won’t survive, scared for our traditions and what the future holds for our debt-saddled kids and grandkids.
It’s a pity this election arrived hand-in-hand with wave four of the pandemic when patience and tolerance were already depleted.
Who could have forecast that in the wealthy west such a large percentage of the population would reject life-saving vaccines and public-health measures and engage in protest that turns people against each other with such a vengeance.
Efforts to control the virus have hit raw nerves with many who were already fed up and distrustful of politicians and governments and see their freedoms and way of life in jeopardy.
With each wave of the pandemic, extremism and intolerance have grown to the point where protesters have impeded access to hospitals where people are dying and worn-out health care workers struggle to keep pace with increasing demand for beds and staff.
Instead of fun-filled political rallies and hijinks once associated with elections, this campaign has been a grim ritual of Zoom calls, pandemic protocols, repetitive speaking points, fudged answers, outright lies, dangerous protests, and a feeding frenzy of giddy media hungry for political gaffes and scandal.
Politicians fear they won’t get elected if they tell people what they don’t want to hear. Their pandering and obfuscation further alienate a population already cynical and losing faith in our democratic process.
American problems, behaviour, and attitudes we are so quick to scorn and condemn are making their way north faster than we are prepared to admit.
I believe cowardice best describes the behaviour of the main contenders in this election.
Opportunism describes the People’s Party of Canada, which feeds off public fear and distrust and encourages vaccine refusers who are the main targets of the epidemic and jeopardize our healthcare system and our hopes of an economic recovery.
The news media and social media deserve some blame for the state of public discourse and truth in this election campaign.
What was once considered “gotcha” politics where the media and opponents pounce on every slip of the tongue or indiscretion can now quickly become a full-blown scandal that hijacks a leader’s message track or alienates a large number of voters.
It’s understandable, therefore, that politicians have to weigh every word and action. But does it have to mean politicians today are so afraid that they abandon their principles, tangle themselves in meaningless rhetoric and double-talk, and become pitiful apologists?
The lone English-language debate turned into a farce with a format that greatly limited substantive debate and candidates’ responses. Sponsored by the Debate Broadcast Group, a consortium of Canada’s biggest broadcasters, it reminded me of the Roman Colosseum. Send out the lions one by one to compete in a life and death battle to claim bringing down the biggest prey.
Since when did journalists abandon their traditional role as providers of information and comment and turn into attack animals?
The moderator of the debate has taken much abuse for having asked a question that referred to the “discrimination” caused minority groups in Québec with a new provincial law that bars some civil servants from wearing religious symbols on the job.
This was immediately translated as “Québec bashing” by Bloc Québécois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet who threw a tantrum that won him accolades in his home province and its National Assembly demanded an apology from the debate organizers.
Instead of having the guts to criticize the discriminatory legislation and call it what it is, the party leaders lined up like sheep to apologize for offending Quebeckers and protect their political hides in vote-rich Québec.
This election campaign has also been marked with the public naming and shaming of several individual candidates. This trend will do little to encourage more people to seek public office.
In the new “woke” world of Canadian politics, parties and their leaders won’t dare support candidates who run afoul of allegations—especially when alleged sexual impropriety is involved and late in the campaign when there is no time or way for the accused to defend themselves.
The most recent example from this campaign occurred just three days ahead of Monday’s election when the Toronto Star published a story about the Liberal candidate in the downtown riding of Spadina-Fort York, who was widely believed to be the front-runner. It turns out that Kevin Vuong had in 2019 been charged with sexual assault; he denied the allegations and the charges were withdrawn by the Crown.
In light of the new publicity, Vuong was quickly given the hook. His name remains on the ballot but Liberal leader Justin Trudeau says that should Vuong win he will not be allowed in the Liberal caucus.
What kind of justice is that? How are Vuong and others like him able to defend themselves? In his case I guess he could approach the Crown and insist the charges of two years ago be re-laid so he has the opportunity to defend his reputation and livelihood.
This could become a popular way to get rid of a political opponent. Get someone to accuse him or her of something and then stand back and wait for the wheels of the leaders’ campaign bus to do their work.
Historians may correct me but I believe this is probably the first election in Canada’s history when our national flag flew at half-mast for the whole length of an election campaign.
Given the peculiar nature and mood of this campaign, perhaps that is appropriate.
Canadians are aware that the flags at all federal buildings, including Parliament Hill and embassies, were ordered lowered as a symbol of mourning in the wake of last May’s discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in British Columbia.
At the English-language debate and since then, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said the flags should be returned to full-mast on Sept.30, the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Polls show a large majority of Canadians agree.
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, who originally ordered the flag lowering in his capacity as prime minister, said this week that, “I plan to keep those flags at half-mast until it is clear that Indigenous peoples are happy to raise them again.”
Well, that will be about the same time as hell freezes over.
Indigenous leaders can’t be expected to make this decision. It is both improper and unfair to ask them to do so.
It’s time the political leaders in this country put on their big-boy and big-girl pants and provide the leadership Canada needs and deserves to get us out of the mess we’re in and on the road to eventual repair and recovery.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com
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