Elec­tion Chat­ter |

Ottawa Magazine - - This City - By Mark Bour­rie

We’ve had some piv­otal elec­tions in Cana­dian history — ones that re­ally stood out for their drama and their im­por­tance.

Take the 1911 elec­tion. Wilfrid Lau­rier had been in power too long. He’d had a pretty good run over the pre­vi­ous 15 years, but it was time for him to go. Rather than try to hand off power to a new gen­er­a­tion, Lau­rier and his gov­ern­ment made a free trade deal with the Amer­i­cans. The Tories, un­der Robert Bor­den, said the deal would de­stroy Canada’s “Bri­tish­ness” and turn us into a colony run from Washington.

The Tories won. Lau­rier hung in as Op­po­si­tion leader for another elec­tion. When it came, in 1917, it was the only na­tional elec­tion ever proven to have been rigged. The Tories and some turn­coat Lib­er­als, who wanted the power to draft men to fight in World War I, gave the vote to women — but only those who had close rel­a­tives at the front. They also di­vided up sol­diers’ votes among rid­ings where Tories needed a few ex­tra to win.

We had another barn­burner in 1945. Again, a Lib­eral gov­ern­ment had been in power too long. Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie King had dom­i­nated pol­i­tics through the 1920s and 1930s, had led the coun­try through the war, and wanted a man­date that would take him into the next decade. The Co-op­er­a­tive Com­mon­wealth Fed­er­a­tion, a fore­run­ner of the New Democrats, was ahead in the polls in the early months of peace. The party promised to pay for the wartime hard­ships with new so­cial pro­grams.

King sim­ply stole the CCF plat­form and won another term.

Then there was the 1988 Free Trade elec­tion. Af­ter years of sup­port­ing free trade with the Amer­i­cans, the Lib­er­als were now against it. Af­ter years of op­pos­ing free trade with the Amer­i­cans, the Tories were for it. Both sides fought hard, joined by busi­ness, union, en­vi­ron­men­tal, and so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions that had very di­verse views about the deal. Cana­di­ans lis­tened.

So elec­tions aren’t bor­ing. Or at least they don’t have to be.

This one should rank among the best.

At least two very dif­fer­ent, com­pet­ing vi­sions of Canada are on of­fer. One is a Canada that is au­thor­i­tar­ian, sus­pi­cious, and an­gry. The other is a Canada that may al­ready be part of history — one that val­ues di­ver­sity, be­lieves in civil rights, and at least pays lip ser­vice to democ­racy.

But will the dis­cus­sion ac­tu­ally take place? In 2011, many Con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates re­fused to show up at all-can­di­dates meet­ings. In­stead, lead­ers of all the ma­jor par­ties travel the coun­try speak­ing to se­lected crowds of cam­paign vol­un­teers. Cam­paign ads, even when they’re not vi­cious at­tacks, tell us very lit­tle about the poli­cies of can­di­dates.

Su­san Dela­court, in her 2013 book Shop­ping for Votes, de­scribed the new re­tail pol­i­tics as a sys­tem of elect­ing can­di­dates that is far from demo­cratic. At least in the minds of the strate­gists — the tribe of poll­sters and mar­keters who run cam­paigns and dom­i­nate news-net­work pan­els — com­put­er­ized fundrais­ing, vote track­ing, and so­cial media are far more im­por­tant than mak­ing face time be­tween can­di­dates and cit­i­zens.

And that’s what this elec­tion may well be about. The bal­lot ques­tion might seem to be whether the economist-in-chief, teenage Je­sus, or an­gry Tom is the lesser of the evils on of­fer. But in re­al­ity, it’s about whether Cana­di­ans want to take back their democ­racy. Do they care enough to shake up the po­lit­i­cal class and take back power? Or are they just there to be du­pes and suck­ers in a crooked race to elect a king?

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