Political orphan, once again

Jagmeet Singh has stood out, but overall this directionless election campaign has been a reminder of why we need electoral reform
Photo: Mike Gifford
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With only a few days to go before Canadian voters head to the polls, I find myself disillusioned in more ways than one.

As expected, this campaign has been an ugly one, mired in real and manufactured scandals, dog-whistle politics, the threat of violence, the inclusion of a far-right candidate (and Rebel News “journalists”) in debates and the normalization of xenophobia masquerading as concerns about immigration or secularism.

While not exactly having reached Trump levels of cringe-worthy identity politics and mud-slinging, the country still seems to have shifted slightly to the right by allowing Maxime Bernier’s open (albeit marginal) call for a ban on immigrants to share centre stage with legitimate candidates on two national debates. Four Bloc and four Green candidates in Quebec were also found to have shared hateful Islamophobic social media posts; all were forced to apologize, but none were asked to resign.

A lot of us who gave Justin “Sunny Ways” Trudeau the benefit of the doubt in 2015 are a lot more cynical this time around.

Unlike the 2015 election, where it felt like an entire country was finally mobilizing to get Harper’s Conservatives out of office, the ship feels a bit more directionless this time around. The Liberals have a good economic record to fall back on, the national unemployment rate is at near-record lows and the job market remains strong. But with the SNC-Lavalin scandal and an ethics commissioner report that found the government violated the Conflict of Interest Act looming in the background, a contentious pipeline purchase and a spectacular fallout with Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, the Liberals have managed to squander a lot of goodwill. Add to that a blackface scandal and you know Trudeau’s spin doctors had a very busy fall.

A lot of us who gave Justin “Sunny Ways” Trudeau the benefit of the doubt in 2015 are a lot more cynical this time around. However, while much of his shine has been tarnished, many Canadians still consider the Liberals the only (somewhat) progressive party that currently stands a chance of forming government — even if only a minority one this time around. And many Canadians are simply not interested in the Conservatives’ platform, which seems to consist of 95 per cent cuts and the possibility of reopening the abortion debate.

As a Canadian who’s deeply invested in social issues, I want a government that mirrors my concerns and values. I want to continue living in a country that promotes diversity and connection. The Liberals’ response to the Syrian crisis will forever endear them to me, but as the migrant crisis intensifies around the world, I don’t want a government that will kowtow to public opinion based on the politics of division and fear. There’s no question that Scheer’s and Bernier’s immigration platforms offer me nothing.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has impressed me the most during the debates and the overall campaign.

As a Quebecer, I fully support the Bloc’s presence in the House of Commons to defend the province’s interests on the federal level, but as an allophone I have grown increasingly wearisome of Yves-François Blanchet’s declarations that the Bloc represents all Quebecers. It doesn’t — and with its emphasis on Bill 21, it most certainly doesn’t represent religious minorities who have been marginalized by this legislation and many ethnic minorities who inevitably sense that the “nous” Blanchet refers to rarely includes them.

But leaders traditionally tread lightly in this province. Votes in Quebec are crucial in federal elections, since the province holds 78 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons. No one is interested in alienating francophone voters.

There are still 50 First Nations communities on boil-water advisories. Half a million people marched in Montreal to bring attention to the climate crisis, and the Trudeau government failed to make good on its campaign pledge to reform the electoral system. But the Liberals have still delivered on enough promises to most likely convince many voters to give them another mandate.

The debates — big on cacophony and political jabs with maximum sound-bite potential but minimum substance — have provided almost no guidance to help Canadians decipher who and which party’s platform to vote for. We’ve been left to fend for ourselves. I know far too many people who rely on front-page headlines and viral memes to make up their minds about who to vote for not to be a little concerned right now.

It’s tiresome and disheartening to be in a position where I feel like no one party or leader satisfies all my concerns and priorities and that I must vote strategically, in order to keep parties out of power, instead of voting to put parties and leaders in power. I resent being put in that position.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has impressed me the most during the debates and the overall campaign. His reaction when faced with a clueless old racist man at Montreal’s Atwater market telling him to remove his turban was pitch-perfect. His takedown of a journalist asking him if he would sign a blank cheque to solve the problem of First Nations communities not having clean drinking water was gloriously on point. His reply, “Would you be asking the same question if Toronto or Montreal didn’t have drinking water?” easily brought home the message of double standards and how Indigenous communities have consistently been treated as second-class citizens on their own land. I believe Singh to be the leader most authentically invested in social equality and I would welcome the NDP forming a coalition with the Liberals, if that’s what it comes down to on Oct. 21.

If anything, this uninspiring campaign has brought home the message that we need to move towards electoral reform and proportional representation as soon as possible. I no longer want to see 37 per cent “majorities” like we have in Quebec right now (the lowest percentage to grant majority in the province’s history) making decisions for all voters. I want to see parties and minority governments forced to work together and reach some workable compromises and solutions that truly reflect the concerns and priorities of all Canadians. Then, perhaps, I can breathe a sigh of relief and vote with a little more enthusiasm and a lot more conviction.

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