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Gary Mason has been a national affairs columnist for The Globe and Mail since 2005 and will receive the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Federal elections in Canada have become ugly affairs. The dirty tricks, the endless mudslinging, the deceitful propaganda – all designed to get your vote but just as likely to make you not want to vote.

I don't know if this campaign has been the worst, or one of the worst, or in the top five of the worst elections for the level of nastiness on display, but to me it's been the most wretched and distasteful of my lifetime. Maybe it's because it seems to have gone on forever. Maybe it's because it has gone on forever. In the United States, they're used to months and months of character assassination. Here, we're not.

It's funny. Each of the three main leaders in this election insist he's the right person to lead a country as great as this one. And yet, each has contributed, in his own way, to making this election as belligerent and divisive and, ultimately, as un-Canadian as possible.

And we wonder why fewer of us are inclined to vote these days.

Modern election campaigns aren't invigorating or inspiring; they're depressing. The last one I can recall that transcended the usual vitriol and sleazy manoeuvring was Barack Obama's 2008 campaign for the presidency. Of course, the Democrats weren't complete innocents, but Mr. Obama did sell hope instead of fear. In this federal campaign, it has felt at times like all we've been pitched is fear, although on this front I'd say the Conservatives have promoted a lot more of it than their opponents.

There was one part of The Globe and Mail's endorsement of the Conservatives I agreed with: the section describing Stephen Harper's egregious campaign style. "The topper has been how this election campaign was sidetracked into an artificial, American-style, culture war over niqabs and 'barbaric cultural practices.' The spectacle of a prime minister seemingly willing to say anything, or demonize anyone, in an attempt to get re-elected has demeaned our politics."

Indeed it has.

Another example of this was the disgraceful ads and flyers being distributed by the Conservatives in the Punjabi and Cantonese communities, warning that a Justin Trudeau government would lead to "illegal drug injection sites in our neighbourhoods" and "brothels in our communities." How cynical to devise a plan based on the notion that those in certain immigrant groups are so gullible and uninformed they'll believe any old lie and half-truth. And yet, this is somehow viewed as acceptable conduct in our modern political age.

The Liberals have been guilty of it too. They sent out literature to immigrant communities as well, in one case warning that Bill C-24, passed by the Conservatives, would mean new Canadians could have their citizenship taken away for no good reason. It's a ridiculous claim, but all is fair in love and election campaigns apparently.

I will give the New Democrats credit: It's been more difficult to find examples of this type of unfettered fear-mongering in their campaign. And, certainly, the Green Party's Elizabeth May has conducted herself in exemplary fashion, even if many will dismiss that as easy to do when you have no hope of winning. I don't know. I think it's something others should aspire to.

Of course, all this is the lament of a naive idealist. Even as I write it, I know things aren't about to change. If the Liberals don't fight the Conservatives' Republican-style war-room stratagems with some of their own, they might well get crushed. As the saying goes, you don't bring a knife to a gun fight. So, we put up with the gun fight, as foul and destructive as it is.

I wish there was some way to forge real change on this front. People have talked about altering the tenor of our national discourse for some time, but nothing happens. We bemoan the Americanization of our politics and yet sit idly by as it gets more and more that way with each passing year. We all like to think we'd never support a party that appeals to our worst instincts and yet do, in droves.

Yet, it must be said: As nasty and acrimonious as this election has been, as contrary to our better natures, don't use it as an excuse not to vote. That single act is something we should never take for granted, none of us. That privilege came at the cost of many lives and those sacrifices should always be honoured with your vote.

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