Stephen LeDrew is a Toronto-based lawyer and broadcaster.
From now until Oct. 19, Canadians will be deluged with ads and news reports full of people urging them to vote Conservative, Liberal, NDP, or some other party. Should people look beyond their past voting habits in choosing which party to support?
Politics has changed dramatically since the last century, with far fewer citizens voting a party line just because their forbears and families did so. But the new paradigm goes even further – one need not vote for the party one supported even in recent elections.
Party loyalty is a crutch for those with lazy minds, and stark partisanship simply makes public discourse cheap and ill-informed. For example, how often has one heard that Stephen Harper is an elitist Conservative, not reflecting Canadian values? How often has one read that Justin Trudeau is just a Liberal scion who represents a last-ditch attempt by his party to resuscitate itself to its former glory? Or that Thomas Mulcair is a tax-and-spend NDipper? Certainly often enough to persuade an outsider that party labels are a major factor in political decision-making in Canada. But will voting by party label provide good government to Canada?
Mr. Harper is no more elitist than John Diefenbaker, Mr. Trudeau no more egalitarian than Lester Pearson, and Mr. Mulcair no more socialist than Tommy Douglas, so why should they be saddled with the image that some hold from yesteryear? Tories are no longer the party of the land-owning rich – nor are Liberals the party of "good managers" – just look back to the sponsorship scandal. And the NDP are not "tax-and-spend" – leading up to the fall campaign, Mr. Mulcair has firmly declared he would not raise personal taxes nearly as high as Mr. Trudeau has promised to do. An analysis of how partisanship mislabels and even misrepresents current parties and policies can go on and on, but the evidence is clear. I can say, as the longest-serving president of the Liberal Party of Canada, and one who occasionally advocated a partisan position or two, not only is partisanship no longer accurate, it is contrary to the very essence of democracy, because it leads people to cast their vote a certain way for the wrong reason. It negates an informed electorate.
So what, if not partisanship? The challenge is to ensure citizens can make informed decisions – not an easy task in this day of instant and unsubstantiated communications. The candidates themselves are the best source. The trick is to separate the truth from the rhetoric. How to do that? Test it against the record, test it with one's judgment, test it against the criticism of other candidates, discuss the platforms with friends and listen to informed debate in the media. Figure it out – learn who would do the best for your country.
It comes down to the gut – how the candidates sound, look, appeal – whether they have earned your respect. Whether the best candidate for prime minister leads a group of men and women with the platform you believe would serve the country best. Enough already with the calls for silly party allegiances – who in their right mind votes for a party because of a love for Douglas, or a fondness for Dief, or a hearkening back to the "Just Society"? Just as the days of voting for a party for historic partisan reasons are over, so too the days of voting for a party you favoured 10 or 15 years ago should be over. One's duty is to vote for the leader and the party one thinks would do the best job of governing Canada for the next four years – not because of some old-fashioned notion of a party's philosophy.