The 2021 Election Campaign has been a Washout
It did not have to be this way. Canadians agree on many things, most notably that their leaders be people of good character.
Photo: CBC News
In 2019 I voted for the first time in a federal election, and it felt like an exciting endeavour. I was exercising my democratic rights and making my contribution (no matter how small) to the governance of Canada.
The 2021 election couldn’t be more different. In the past few weeks many young adults with whom I have spoken have told me, entirely without enthusiasm, “I have no idea who to vote for.” The truth is, this second time around, I no longer have the resolve to figure out what is presently going on in politics—and from the looks of it, I am not the only one.
Watching the English-language leaders debate the other night seemed more like a comedy roast than any kind of serious national debate. As Ian Brown observed in the Globe and Mail, “It would be more revealing, in fact, to make all the candidates run a 100-yard dash. At least that way we’d get to see a demonstration of character.”
Brown is correct. For many undecided voters, debates such as these do very little to elucidate the quality of the leaders’ platforms, thus worsening the general climate of confusion and apathy. This disconnect could help to explain why nearly half of all undecided voters (47 percent) dislike all parties.
Amidst the growing confusion of our electoral politics is an increasingly distrusting public. One Canadian poll has found that only 18 percent of respondents found politicians to be a reliable source of information. A recent Angus Reid survey found that four in ten Canadians believe the quality of federal candidates has worsened over the last ten years. Young adults, in particular, have the worst voter turnout rates—and have for decades. Only 53.9 percent of 18-24-year-olds participated in the 2019 federal election, evidence of the widespread indifference many of us feel about the candidates and, arguably, about the futility of the entire process.
What I would like to see more of in our federal leadership contenders is good character. My sense is that I am not alone, especially among young voters. Character is something that appears to be receding in our public conversations about Canada’s political leadership—possibly because it is increasingly difficult to imagine any politician with good character. For me, the revelation of the English-language debate was that none of our leading politicians demonstrate the kind of decency, maturity or mutual respect that I would like to see in my prime minister or, indeed, throughout the federal parliament.
What do I mean by good character? First and foremost, it entails a genuine willingness to listen to those with whom one disagrees. Each party platform is supposed to represent different perspectives, interests and ideas. Fair enough. Debate is healthy and essential to our democratic process. And just to state the obvious, it would be naïve to imagine that an election campaign is anything other than a winner-take-all competition. However, putting down other candidates, talking over one another, issuing attack ads and getting into arguments that seem more emotional than rational will not earn my vote—or my respect.
All of the leaders participating in the televised debate appeared to agree, for example, that we need to “listen to indigenous voices” in order to address issues of reconciliation. Yet none of the party leaders showed the slightest inclination to listen to one another. After September 20, one of them will emerge as our next prime minister. Yet there is virtually no acknowledgement that the others will also emerge as their co-workers in parliament, nor any appreciation of Canadians’ entirely reasonable expectation that our elected officials will work together for the good of all.
What many young voters wish to see when our next government is formed is a commitment to open-mindedness, a willingness to listen, and a rational commitment to compromise—even across party lines. Canada has become increasingly divided and angry in recent years, but this obvious truth does not diminish the need for serious, thoughtful, action-oriented solutions. Nothing will be accomplished if our leaders cannot respect one another or, more tellingly, if they behave as if they have no respect for the voters who disagree with them. We are always talking, rightly, about diversity as a Canadian virtue. What our country needs is leadership that will unite us in spite of our differences.
Trust has always been something that must be earned. If politicians have any hope of earning the public’s trust, then the process must start with a demonstration of good character. In deciding who to vote for in this fall election, I will be holding politicians to the standards that I have for anyone that I encounter—respect, maturity, honesty, humility and empathy.
This should not be so difficult to find.