Well, that was fast. Like a summer thunderstorm, the federal election campaign has come and gone. And what a mean, shallow, silly, pointless affair it was, too.
The pointlessness was obvious from the day that Justin Trudeau asked Governor General Mary Simon to dissolve Parliament. He had a stable minority government in no imminent danger of collapse. He looked at the polls and pulled the trigger anyway, passing over the little matter of the country’s fixed-election-date law and making a transparently opportunistic bid for a majority. However his bet plays out on Monday, it was a colossal waste of time and money – rather a lot of money at that: about $600-million, making it the most expensive election yet.
The three major-party leaders spent the last month trying frantically to ingratiate themselves with every possible interest group, regional bloc and demographic cluster, leaving the common good in the dust. Reaching into a toy chest that they seem to believe has somehow become bottomless, they proffered something for everyone: pensioners, gig workers, parents with children, indebted students, out-of-work artists, rural folk with lousy Internet and small businesses (but not big ones, they’re bad).
On the awkward question of who would pay for all this, they affect a breezy unconcern. Mr. Trudeau would reach into the bulging pockets of the banks (big, thus bad), tripping lightly over what that might cost people in higher banking fees, steeper interest rates or lower returns on their retirement savings. Jagmeet Singh of the NDP would (surprise) soak the rich. Even Erin O’Toole of the new, nicer Conservatives says he would take a decade to balance the books.
In the meantime, he would spend like, well, a Liberal. The man who ran for his party’s leadership as a true blue conservative is now, quite suddenly, the reddest of Tories. According to his expansive party platform, he would “stand up to Corporate Canada” and “give workers a real voice … against major multinational corporations.” Golly.
The platform has dough for everyone from Main Street business owners (small: good) to francophone universities to holiday shoppers, who would get a sales-tax break from Santa this season.
When they weren’t offering to dole out our grandchildren’s money, these would-be guardians of the national interest were falling over each other to curry favour in the battleground province of Quebec. And when they weren’t doing that, they were taking potshots at each other. Pulling out the rustiest blunderbuss in the Liberal armoury, Mr. Trudeau tried to suggest that Mr. O’Toole might turn modern-day Canada into something from The Handmaid’s Tale – and while he was at it, he would destroy Conservative electoral hopes for all time by undermining our cherished health care system. Mr. O’Toole, in turn, tried to portray Mr. Trudeau as a privileged, selfish party boy who would say anything and promise anything to get elected. That was pretty rich coming from a leader who trailed promises in his wake like confetti and spent the campaign saying pleasing things to all those he thinks he must please.
Way out in right field, meanwhile, Maxime Bernier of the People’s Party of Canada was rousing the rabble with ringing phrases such as: “When tyranny becomes law, revolution becomes our duty.” He enjoyed a surge in the polls. One of his supporters held up a placard that helped explain why. “The other options suck.”
If this awful election campaign did anything, it showed how stagnant our politics have become. Everything that voters have come to loathe about the system was on vivid display. The tyranny of the spin doctors, tailoring and calibrating every utterance of their puppet-like candidates. The endless robotic repetition of rehearsed talking points. The reams of costly, carefully targeted promises. Apart from a retort or two, it is hard to recall a single genuine moment in the whole business.
It is just the sort of thing that fuels the rise of the angry populist – Rob Ford, Donald Trump, Mr. Bernier – vowing to drain the swamp and stop the gravy train. If that’s what we want, elections like this one are a sure way to get it.
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