If you think you’ve got it bad, think of all those politicians who are putting their hearts and souls into upcoming elections while the rest of us obsess over lousy weather, skyrocketing costs of everything, and filing our income tax returns.
There are some candidates who will actually benefit from the sour mood that now prevails and they should probably pray for more rain and even snow.
“Happy times are here again” is not a theme song you will hear on the campaign trails at any level—municipal elections October 24, provincial election June 2, or the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership vote on Sept. 10.
Ask anyone at a CPC candidate Pierre Poilievre rally why they’re there and they’ll probably tell you they’re mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. It’s freedom they want—freedom from the tyranny of hated laws, taxes and mandates, and woke Liberals they say are destroying Canada as we know it.
It’s early yet on the municipal scene but gone are the days when municipal candidates could win with distinguished membership in Rotary or experience on the local school board. Today’s cities and towns are faced with gut-wrenching social issues like homelessness and staggering planning and financial decisions. It is no job for sissies.
And it’s about to get tougher. For example, the federal and provincial governments have signaled that municipalities will be expected to play a bigger role dealing with Canada’s critical housing shortage. Our municipalities will be pressured to work with developers to provide incentives and remove barriers to housing starts.
Our prime minister says the municipalities must become “essential partners” if the problem is to be solved.
That’s political talk meaning local councils will be in the hot seat in a process that pits developers against community groups who oppose development for a variety of reasons ranging from heritage preservation to not-in-my-backyard syndrome.
Municipal councils need more good people. It’s a tough job that involves long hours and personal attacks and lacks the perks and good salaries offered at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa.
At the provincial election level, I’m willing to bet that with only weeks to go before voting day on June 2, the majority of Ontarians don’t even know that the government of Canada’s biggest province is up for grabs.
The Opposition leaders appear to be playing Where’s Waldo while Premier Doug Ford is everywhere shamelessly announcing pre-election goodies and handing out cheques.
Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca is scarcely known despite having been a senior member of the last Liberal government at Queen’s Park. It’s hard to find someone who knows or can pronounce his name properly—not a good sign. NDP leader Andrea Horwath appears to be too well known for her own good and that of her party. This will be her fourth election as party leader and there’s no evidence that an orange wave is on its way.
At the federal level, with Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberals pretty well protected from a possible election thanks to his deal with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, media attention has been focused on Canada’s contribution to the Ukrainian war effort (or lack thereof), record inflation, continuing pandemic fallout, and the Tories’ leadership race.
I watched our prime minister assure Canadians this week that we can feel “comfortable” with the level of support we are providing to Ukraine. Well, sir, this is one Canadian who is damned well embarrassed by my government’s slow and grudging support of Ukraine and the refugees trying to escape with their lives.
In the federal Conservative leadership race, the final lineup won’t be known until the April 29 deadline for candidates to submit their $300,000 entry fee. This is an easy requirement for the big shooters now seen as front runners but more difficult for the lesser-knowns trying to get a place at the table.
Two debates are scheduled—English in Edmonton on May 11 and the French debate in Montreal on May 25 with a possible third encounter in August. How much public interest there will be is anyone’s guess but there is much at stake if we believe that good leaders make good governments.
The contest is a reminder that, as in all blood sports, in politics you gotta pay to play. (In fact, we all pay in the long run. Political parties are heavily subsidized in Canada. Parties are reimbursed 50 per cent of their eligible expenses after each campaign. Candidates get 60 per cent back. In 2019, those subsidies cost more than $63 million. Individual donors also get refunds—more generous than those who give to charities—that cost taxpayers in 2017 more than $25 million.)
CPC candidates have to come up with big bucks to get in the game and only those Canadians who buy party memberships before June 3 at $15 each are eligible to vote.
I’m especially interested in lesser-known candidates Leona Alleslev and Scott Aitchison. I hope both can raise the entry fee because both are moderates and have shown an eagerness to address issues that the more seasoned competitors and the party would prefer to avoid.
Aitchison, the MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka, has bravely raised the issue of supply management, a process that allows dairy, poultry, and egg producers to limit the supply of their products to what Canadians expect to consume. The goal is to ensure stable prices and quality but it also means the lack of competition drives up costs.
Aitchison argues that, like New Zealand, our producers could compete with other countries and dismantling supply management would provide new opportunities for our farmers and more choice and better prices for families.
Needless to say, he won’t be getting campaign funding from the powerful farm lobby.
Leona Alleslev is a former Liberal MP who crossed the floor when she disagreed with Trudeau policies and performance on several fronts and joined the Conservatives. She’s no shrinking violet. She was re-elected as a Conservative MP but lost her seat in the 2021 election.
Alleslev is in the leadership because she believes Canada has devolved into a “one-party state” with traditional Liberal dominance and wants to create trust in the Conservatives to restore unity at home as well as respect on the world stage.
Raised in a military family, a graduate of Royal Military College, and a former senior officer in the armed forces, Alleslev speaks from personal experience as she campaigns for increased defence spending, improved procurement policies, and reform of the military to restore morale and recruitment.
I look to people like Aitchison and Alleslev to rock the boat and make this leadership contest an opportunity to engage Canadians in the political process. Ordinary Canadians need to believe someone is listening to them about issues that affect them and that they don’t need to resort to “freedom convoys” or polarizing politicians who feed on their worst fears.
We need open, frank, and honest debate in this country on so many issues. Anger and lack of hope is no recipe for restoring unity and building a stronger and more equitable Canada that can restore a badly needed leadership role in this sadly torn and troubled world.
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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