Canadians have a reputation for kindness and diplomacy…and then an election happens. If someone were to judge Canadians by their political advertisements, we’d have a reputation for being passive-aggressive (“he’s just not ready“) and corrupt (“enough“). This election isn’t the worst by a long shot; I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how few attack ads there are this year, considering the intensity of the issues at hand (Senators on trial, veterans attacking Conservatives, etc). For too many years now, we’ve had even more negative campaign ads.
But if you did judge Canadians as passive-aggressive and corrupt, you’d be wrong. Canadians are sick of that kind of politics. The problem is, we’ve forgotten that there’s any other kind. Rather than calling on our political parties to clean it up, many people have disengaged altogether. Too many.
I don’t mean that people just aren’t voting. I mean that people actually recoil, physically, when politics is brought up. Everyone is usually happy to share an opinion, but try asking someone for a signature on a petition or nomination form sometime. Some people simply refuse to participate; for others, their eyes widen in surprise and then narrow in distrust, sometimes with a hint of panic. They feel overwhelmed by the very notion of getting involved, and want nothing to do with it. If you think I’m exaggerating, come canvassing with me. (And before you say it – yes, they recoil before they know who I am or what party I represent!)
What’s worse than individuals who don’t want to participate in simple, nonpartisan political actions is when the public square is closed to the conversation. I’ll give you two examples from my riding, Provencher.
On Canada Day, a political day if ever there was one, I was at a public event. Since there were thousands of people there, I had brought my clipboard with signature pages. Every would-be candidate has to collect 100 signatures in order to get on the ballot; the signatures “consent to candidacy”, which means that the people who sign it agree that the would-be candidate has the right to run. It’s entirely non-partisan, because the signature doesn’t imply endorsement of the candidate’s party – only the candidate’s right to be a candidate. Even so, I thought it would be professional for me to ask permission before collecting any signatures, and was directed to a man setting up a microphone; he was the manager of the venue. His response was that they’d really prefer if I didn’t collect any signatures; they wanted it to be a “non-political” place. Sure, I said, wondering what he meant by that. Then he finished setting up the microphone, and introduced Conservative MP Ted Falk, who gave a speech. This was followed by the Progressive Conservative MLA, the Mayor of the city, the Reeve of the surrounding municipality, and the Reeve of the next municipality. Apparently what he meant by “non-political” was “non-partisan”, which itself was based on the assumption that anything I had to say while collecting signatures might stir up tension (not to mention the assumption that the MP, MLA and even municipal politicians would have nothing partisan to say).
The next example is even more clear-cut. One of the places we had been hoping to set up a table to promote our campaign was at local farmer’s markets throughout the riding. We plan to set up a table with a few brochures, a few postcards, and some buttons and cloth tote bags to give away; maybe we’d get a few volunteers to sign up, or collect a few donations. Unfortunately, at least one of the directors of the largest farmer’s market in the riding has denied us access; they will not allow us to rent space at the farmer’s market for our table, citing concerns that we would be “bad-mouthing the other parties.” My first thought is “have they heard of the Green Party? We don’t do that.” Unfortunately, at least at this point, this director has not spoken to me directly.
It would appear that politics of any kind is not welcome in Steinbach. It’s a dirty word. It creates tension, fosters conflict, scares people off. This is not the fault of the people I’ve mentioned above, it’s the result of years of negative campaigning. Politicians: we’ve done that. We need to undo it.
There are eight weeks of campaigning left. I challenge Ted Falk, Terry Hayward, and whoever runs for the NDP: let’s run positive campaigns, with no attack ads. That means no more “Just Not Ready” ads, no more “Wait, What?” ads, no more “Enough” ads. There’s plenty of time and space for criticism of the other parties; we don’t need sound bites and spin to do it. Join me in pledging to keep all of our ads about…us. Us as candidates, and the platforms we’re running under. This election is about giving people a choice between us and our ideas, not about tearing each other down. Maybe we can show the people of Provencher that politics isn’t all about divisiveness and conflict after all. Maybe there’s hope for public engagement and an open public square.
Provencher, don’t be afraid to engage. Ted, Terry and I are all nice guys who actually get along well enough, even if we disagree about how to best represent you. Give us a call, invite us over, and get to know us; we’ll talk to your neighbours too. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!
Your Green candidate,