I am a New Democrat from Prince Edward Island, which is pretty much a two-party province, switching from Liberal to Conservative in the same way farmers rotate their crops. The NDP voter is treated like a butterfly: pretty to look at, but with a short life, ending up pinned to some child's school project. But times are a-changing and pigs are a-flying.
"Anyone but Harper" campaigns are cropping up in once largely Conservative towns, and a member of the Green Party was elected to the PEI legislature in May.
More importantly, my Liberal-voting father and I finally agree on two key political points: Canada needs a change of government, and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair needs to get rid of his beard.
There's an old axiom in politics that goes something like: If you have a beard, you won't be elected. Only two Canadian prime ministers had full beards – Alexander Mackenzie in 1873, and MacKenzie Bowell in 1894. However, neither one was initially elected by the people; they were appointed prime minister after a resignation and a death. (And although Pierre Trudeau sported a beard in 1979, it was the souvenir of a wilderness canoe trip.) Similar beardless track records can be traced in the history of U.S. and British political leadership.
And it's not just beards that draw negative attention.
Stephen Harper's Conservatives have used Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's luscious locks as a means to suggest that while he has "nice hair," he is clearly too baby-faced to take on the grown-up issues.
The Liberals have followed suit with a video that pokes fun at Mr. Harper's obsession with Mr. Trudeau's hair, which raises real questions about the seriousness of voter inclinations when it comes to facial profiling.
The hipster look may be here to stay, but it seems many people don't trust men with beards to run countries. There are a number of possible reasons why, some of which are so negative and discriminatory that they don't deserve mention. Those who believe horrible stereotypes about minority groups and overgrown facial hair surely won't be voting NDP anyway.
But let's think about the fence-sitter who usually votes Liberal, but who might vote NDP on Oct. 19 to unseat Mr. Harper. This voter is one we need to pay more attention to.
Some people say they find the look of beards untidy or lazy, or that the image makes them think back to hippies, free love and communism. One recently released U.S. study found that some voters, particularly women and self-identified feminists, were less likely to vote for men with beards, because of their perceived "heightened masculinity."
Liberal voters might trust bearded men to chop wood, write screenplays and play in bands, but making decisions about wars and national economic programs are tasks best left in the hands of the cleanly shaved. Is this line of reasoning warranted? Of course not, but, really, is now the time to try to fight that battle?
I'm not saying Mr. Mulcair has to shave to be a good prime minister. A beard shouldn't say anything about a person's abilities to lead. But for me, Mr. Mulcair becoming the first bearded man to fill Canada's top political office in modern times isn't the sort of historic achievement I'm hoping to celebrate as a voter.
There are much bigger concerns out there needing his, and our, attention. So why gamble? Mr. Mulcair, please play the odds and lose the beard. You can always grow it again, but you may not get another shot at leading our country.