I’ve quickly discovered, running as a Green candidate, that the larger parties set the conversation topics around election time. So long as we’re talking about what they’re talking about, we’re part of the national conversation and get a decent amount of press coverage; but if the larger parties get distracted by side issues and partisan rhetoric and we try to steer the conversation toward more important matters, we get dropped form the news cycle because we’re no longer part of the story. The story is whatever the larger parties, and in particular the current ruling party, are doing. Even in my own riding, where I am pleased to be interviewed on a weekly basis, the interviews are often largely asking me to respond to the issues the other parties bring up (though not always – I’ve really appreciated the coverage that The Carillon has been giving to the election campaign).
The way we fit into the media cycle became quite clear to me the other night as I was on my way to meet a supporter and deliver some signs. It was pouring rain and pitch black out, but I took comfort from The Current Review, one of my favourite shows on current events. The host was talking to a panel about healthcare in Canada, and they were hitting on all of our Green policies: pharmacare, home care, palliative care. They could have been reading straight from our platform a lot of the time. But the panel members lamented that no political parties have a vision for this type of thing – nobody is talking about healthcare, they complained. Through the whole episode I was just waiting for someone to mention the Green platform by name, but that mention never came. But there was a flash of hope: the host mentioned that the next day there would be a panel of political candidates! We’d get to point out that we DO have a vision for these things! But alas, my hopes were dashed: “…we’ll have a panel of the three major political parties to talk about healthcare….” Three major parties? Finally the story was about something important, something we’ve said a lot about, and we were denied the chance to comment.
I’m not writing this to say “woe is me,” but in a system of politics that depends largely on simple public recognition, getting mentioned on a national radio show holds a lot of power. The Green Party has the most ambitious and concrete vision for Canada, but that doesn’t matter if nobody hears about it. But to get any mention in the media, we have to be commenting on whatever the larger parties’ leaders are talking about rather than our vision and ideas. We’re left with a choice between promoting important ideas in obscurity, or making headlines talking about sensational issues that have nothing to do with this election, like niqabs.
So knowing that the party leaders of the three largest parties are able to set the media agenda, and through that to decide what Canadians will be talking about and thinking about as they decide who will represent them in Parliament and, ultimately, who will govern the country, I can’t help but wonder: what are the priorities of the other parties?
The biggest expenses our government faces are always healthcare, education, military, and judicial (mostly prisons). At the same time, we’re facing several crises that are either currently exploding or soon will be: climate change, the aging baby boomers, and refugees. All of these expenditures and issues are crucial to the role of the federal government. But what have the three largest political parties been talking about?
- The Economy. Everyone is always talking about the economy. When they do, they talk a lot about the number of jobs that have been lost or created, the amount of imports and exports, whether or not the budget is actually balanced, and the Gross Domestic Product and whether or not we’re technically in a recession. All of that is fine and good, except that none of it is particularly important on an aggregate level on a week-to-week basis, or even a year-to-year basis. It doesn’t really matter if the budget is balanced this year, the problem is that it was in severe deficit for the previous eight; it doesn’t really matter how many jobs were created this month, the problem is that overall employment is still too low and the jobs that are being created are largely not as high-paying or meaningful as the ones that were lost; and the government doesn’t actually control these things anyway! The most the government can do to influence the Canadian economy is create incentives and disincentives through taxes or tax breaks, or by setting interest rates, and then wait and see what happens.
So the never-ending conversation about the economy amounts to throwing numbers around and trying to predict things that we can’t control. Meanwhile, the very structure of our economy is about to be challenged by the aging of the workforce and the oncoming retirement of the baby boomers. The viability of our economy is currently being challenged by climate change, and we know that it’s going to get a lot more challenging if we don’t act now. The shift from a carbon-based economy to a clean-energy economy is the biggest economic shift, and therefore the biggest economic opportunity, since the industrial revolution. And the refugee crisis, largely caused by climate change in the first place, also presents us with the economic challenge of settling tens of thousands (or more) people into our nation, and the economic opportunity that increase in population will bring us provided we can integrate them into our economy through recognition of their learning and credentials and ongoing education and professional development to adjust to their new context. But who’s talking about all of that when they talk about the economy? The Green Party is, but when we do so we’re off the narrative, and shut out of the media cycle.
- Niqabs. Seriously, this has been the biggest issue of the campaign so far, except maybe for the nebulous talk of the economy. There have been opinion polls that show that the Conservatives and the Bloq Quebecois have gained significant popularity since this issue came up – but it’s an issue that actually only affects two Canadians thus far. Yes, two women in Canada’s history have insisted on the right to wear garments they feel inspired to wear out of respect for their God while they swear a citizenship oath. It’s a baseless issue, but even the question of whether or not it’s an important issue is getting more attention than things that are absolutely important issues – like healthcare, education, climate change, and the necessity of a national seniors strategy.
Whatever the other party is saying. I get that it’s necessary to differentiate yourself from your opponents during an election, and that means being critical of the platforms of the other parties. We all do it, and it serves a function if it’s done well. But the message that’s been most clearly sent in this election isn’t about any particular issue, or about any party’s particular plan; the central message of this election that most people have received (including some of the kids in the public schools I’ve spoken in this week, who can quote the ads verbatim) is that Justin Trudeau is “just not ready”, and that Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau all seem to hate each other. They do a better job of pulling each other down than they do of informing people of their actual platforms. Props to the Carillon for running a story this week asking high school students what they think about the election; their question was, why all the mud-slinging? Teenagers want to know what the parties stand for, not who they stand against.
And while we’re on the subject of promoting platforms, here’s an interesting fact: in spite of the excessive length of this election campaign (the longest in Canadian history), the Conservatives and NDP waited until yesterday, the first day of advanced polls, to actually release their platforms in full. We’ve had almost ten weeks of campaigning, and they waited until the last week of the campaign to show the nation their full strategy. The Liberals released their full platform a few weeks ago, and the Greens released our platform six weeks ago, fully costed and with an independently reviewed budget, because we believe that the point of an election campaign is to give voters the chance to actually hear what we’re proposing to do for the country and compare that to the strategies of the other parties in order to decide what they think is best. How can we have an informed electorate if the two biggest parties don’t release their plans until the last minute, and continue to lead the media cycle down rabbit trails instead of actually talking about their platforms?
Some of you may have already voted, as the advanced polls opened yesterday. I’ll be going to my advanced poll today. When you make your mark, consider what you know about the parties and their priorities. Are they spending their time informing you about real issues, or incensing you about cultural concerns that you’ll probably never actually have to deal with? Are they planning for the future, or fighting for prominence in the present? The spectacle of it all is like team sports, and many politicians (and voters) treat it that way, but this is not a game. This is our life, our nation, our world, and we need people who can lead us and keep us informed, people with a plan for the present and the future. “Without vision, the people will perish;” so what vision and priorities have the different parties presented you with?
You can see the Green Party platform here, and the full Vision Green policy document (available year round, not just the week before an election) here. Take another look, compare it to the other party platforms, and vote for the vision that inspires you to make your community, nation, and world better. And let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issues and platforms!