Saturday, January 21, 2006

Election thoughts from a recovering political addict

I'm not sure why, but I've managed to avoid commenting on the Canadian federal election to this point. For a political junkie that used to be in the mainstream news business, this seems a bit odd. But its not like I haven't been watching what's been going on. It's just that nothing quite got me motivated enough to blog about it.

I've always believed that change is good. I think governments that stay in power too long become more interested in staying in power than governing effectively. The migration from the government offices to the civil service gets to be a problem, as political types look to find more secure jobs in the departments.

At some point, it's better for everyone to let fresh faces take over, clean house and start shaking up the moribund aspects of government. I'm not convinced that one party is that much different from another, so I guess I'm ready for a change. Unfortunately, the party I'd like to see given a chance to run things doesn't look likely to play anything other than a support role. Oh well.

I certainly haven't had to worry about getting too involved personally. During the entire campaign, despite its length, I've had a grand total of one person come to my door. To his credit, it was the local NDP candidate. His literature points out with pride that he's visited every home in the consituency at least once. So if door-knocking counts for anything, he should be in good shape.

Alas, I don't think it really does. I did have a flyer from the Liberal campaign one day. It pointed out that the NDP are losers and anyone who votes for them instead of the Liberals to defeat the Tories must have rocks in their heads. Or words to that effect.

I'm not sure, but the fact that there's an NDP sign on my front lawn (the very first time in my life I've hosted a sign) might have had something to do with that pamphlet. If the goal was to get me to switch my vote, it wasn't all that effective. It was more rude than anything else. You don't inspire people by telling them they're stupid.

I think this campaign has pointed out how completely we have succumbed to the idea that what a leader says and does is critical to our vote. The news is almost entirely leader-based coverage. Even the local candidates spout messages based on the national talking points. A local candidate might be asked about local zoning issues and they'll point out that without a strong national daycare program, nothing is possible. Perhaps that's true at some level, but it certainly doesn't answer the question.

I happen to work these days in an office with a lot of Ontarians who are struggling with the idea of voting for, or at least having a government run by, the Tories. To be honest, I can't quite figure out why the NDP doesn't have more traction in Toronto. They appear to be the party that represents all the issues that Torontonians argue about so passionately. Yet the battle in that city seems to be between Tories and Liberals, with the NDP thrown in to skew the vote for one party or the other.

What is evident is how effective negative advertising is. I noticed last week that the chatter in the lunch room reflected the content of the Liberal attack ads. One woman mentioned casually that Harper will send troops anywhere George Bush wants him to. He'll also allow a vote on abortion, and end same-sex marriages. But her colleague argued the Liberals are all corrupt and deserve to be thrown out. Both sides know this because they heard it on TV. (OK, I admit this was just one overheard conversation in the lunch room. I agree that the election is not exactly the first topic of conversation most days, at least where I work.)

And while people claim to dislike negative advertising, the polling numbers appear to show that the negative ads work. As the Liberal ads continue, the lead the Tories enjoyed is slipping, thanks in large part to the swing in Ontario.

In 2004, the final negative push by the Liberals paid off on voting day. Could the same scenario come true this Monday? It doesn't look like it right now, but if we learned one thing from the last election, it's that anything is possible.

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