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             Gobsmacking Launch To Most Important Canadian Election

                                             Since Confederation

 

 

By Susanna Kelley 

It was possibly the most gob-smacking election launch in modern Canadian history.

The shockers began almost immediately after Stephen Harper announced he'd asked the Governor General to dissolve parliament and call an election for October 19 — at 78 days, it will be among the longest in Canadian history.

"I feel very strongly ... that ... campaigns need to be conducted under the rules of the law. That the money come from the parties themselves, not from government resources, parliamentary resources or taxpayer resources," he said.

That statement came to the slack-jawed shock of every Canadian who is aware of two simple facts: the machinery of elections are paid for the most part with taxpayers' money, so the longer they are the more they cost; and that donations to political parties and their candidates are heavily subsidized by taxpayers as well.

So it stands to reason the Tories have the most advantage: the longer campaign allows the parties to almost double the allowable amount they are able to spend, and since the CPC has the most money by far, it will be able to outspend the NDP and Liberals. On top of that, individual candidates can spend more. Once again, CPC riding associations are more flush.

And all this is heavily subsidized with public funds.

The gobsmacking didn't stop with Mr. Harper's announcement, however.

Next there was the spectre on national television and the Internet of the number two party leader, the NDP's Thomas Mulcair, walking away from the podium and refusing to take any questions after he launched his own campaign.

Mr. Mulcair's refusal followed another recent bombshell revelation from his party — that after years of complaining that Stephen Harper is inaccessible, the leader will not take part in the traditional televised debate that has in the past drawn massive audience numbers as Canadians watched their leaders discuss the issues of the day, then made up their minds whom to support.

And Liberal leader Justin Trudeau did not disappoint when it came to another gobsmackingly unusual campaign launch: the inexplicable decision by the Liberals to have their leader AWOL at the time of the writ drop, spending the 10 am announcement by Mr. Harper on a plane to Vancouver.  He thus missed the news cycle and the audience that had tuned in to the various media outlets to watch their leaders launch their own campaigns.  He finally made himself available at 2 pm. Eastern time.

What kind of a decision is that — showing up for an election launch four hours late when most people have tuned out?

All these political hijinks at the launch — the misleading claim by Mr. Harper that he called a long campaign to make parties bear the costs, the jockeying for strategic position by Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau — make a mockery of the basic social contract in a democracy — that an election is about choosing policies that affect the future of the nation as well as the type of society and laws that we all want to live under.

"This is such an important election," we keep hearing.

Every partisan has heard this line in every election.  It's the way political parties get their teams, supporters and voters all revved up for the excruciatingly exhausting election work that they're being asked to do or the support they're being asked to give on election day.

But this time, the partisans are right — it is quite possibly the most important political decision Canadians will make since Confederation.

That takes in a lot of important elections, certainly - 1917's bitter World War I "conscription crisis" campaign won by Sir Wilfrid Laurier which kept the country together; the 1979 election that gave Pierre Trudeau the power to bring in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and repatriate the constitution; and 1984's win by Brian Mulroney, who signed the free trade agreement with the US in 1987 and brought us the Thatcher/Reagan revolution with its trickle down economics that have dominated - and stagnated - Canada's economy over 30 years.

What could possibly be making this a more important election than all of these?

Quite simply, Canadians are deciding whether or not to have a true say in their own future.

Because at this point, most do not. 

The current system of government, in which less than 40 per cent of voters have dictated that the other 60 per cent of Canadians live under policies that they do not support, is fundamentally undemocratic and not what our forefathers envisioned. 

What has that meant in practice under Stephen Harper?

Here's just a partial record of the Harper government:

Warrantless spying on innocent Canadians by their own government; economic stagnation; the continued destruction of the middle class; allowing manufacturing to collapse by shipping jobs off to other countries while Canada gives access to her market away for free; a growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else, as tax breaks for the richest haven't trickled down to everyone else but have brought record household debt instead; passing laws retroactively to make crimes retroactively legal in the case of the RCMP.

Most egregious, however, are attempts to distort, disallow and disenfranchise the democratic choices made by Canadians, to wit: Conservative partisans accused robo-call operative Michael Sona and Harper point man Dean Del Mastro, both jailed for breaking election campaign laws; Harper's hand-picked Senate choice — Mike Duffy — on trial and others under investigation for expense fraud; voter suppression that will see Canadian citizens refused their vote because they don't bring a new, onerous and ridiculous amount of identification to the polling booth this time around.

We should be encouraging free voting, not discouraging it. 

Many of the problems facing Canada wouldn't be happening if the majority of voters had actually had their way over the last 30 years. Policies they did not vote for, and in many cases blatantly opposed, have ruled the day anyway, and it's getting worse.

But unlike the NDP and the Liberals, the CPC is not in favour of reforming our electoral system so a more democratic system — representation by population, the stated objective of Canada's Fathers of Confederation — is truly achieved by getting rid of the antiquated first past the post electoral system. 

This election is a chance to rectify this most basic and most important of flaws in our political system, and one which would change Canadian history for all the generations to come by changing the decisions that will be made going forward, reflecting Canadians' true wishes. 

It is early days yet in this interminably long election campaign.

There will be all the usual campaign elements that will be the subject of much punditry and will influence the outcome — the advertising wars, the strategies, the platforms, the mistakes, the attempted recoveries.

And there is a lot of time to discuss and debate the issues facing Canada in the 78-day campaign. That is not a bad thing.

But the most important issue is the erosion of our democracy itself, because everything else flows from there.

Canadians will have to work extra hard this election to make their votes count this time around because of all the attempts to interfere with that basic right they hold.

Perhaps by this time next election, if voting reforms happen, it will no longer have to be such a driving concern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : August 03, 2015

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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