When Kim Campbell was running for re-election as Canada’s Prime Minister in 1993, she was mocked for her observation that “campaigns are not the time to discuss important issues.” One wonders what she would think if she has been paying any attention to the Ontario Election. Let’s face it, election campaigns have always been more about the spectacle than substance, but this campaign is so cliché ridden, so devoid of content as to be insulting. None of the three leaders have thus far demonstrated anything approaching intelligent discussion of issues; relying instead on a couple of staged events each day consisting of a photo op showing the leader standing in front of a group of “supporters” who often as not look like they are making a hostage tape. Do we need to ever again see photos of leaders wearing hard hats and safety glasses, riding on tractors or “helping out” in a food processing plant?
It’s not much better when you visit the party websites. You would think with the almost limitless possibilities of the Internet that a serious voter might be able to access in-depth policy papers and the like, maybe even find the detailed economic assumptions supporting the various promises and positions (assuming they exist). Good luck. Most egregious is the governing Liberal site, the home page of which consists of an enormous picture of Kathleen Wynne.You’d think after 11 years in office they would have a better handle on issues than their opponents, but if so, it’s not in evidence on the party website. By clicking deeply into the links you finally get to see the economic assumptions that support the Liberal promise to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18. The assumptions, by the way– government spending in 2018 will be the same as today and that revenues will be up an average of 4 and a half percent per year. This will be achieved without cuts to the public service, without an increase in corporate taxes, or personal taxes except for a few rich people. Sure. It’s a little better with the PC website. At least there one can find an easy link to a number of policy white papers. Unfortunately there is also the Million Dollar Jobs plan which has been derided by economists for math errors. Here’s the thing. We had better create a million jobs over the next 8 years, because our population is going to grow by more than that amount. The real question is whether government will have anything to do with the creation of those jobs, and the track record on that score is not good. The NDP website declares “Andrea Horwath Makes Sense”. In the first year of her plan she will save $2.5 Billion by stopping corporate tax giveaways—and since the corporate tax division only collects taxes, it is a euphemism for raising corporate tax rates. Maybe that will work, but it is risky at a time when economists predict the Ontario economy will be sluggish for the next 20 years. It’s not a great time to be attacking the people who create jobs.
At a time when there are so many outlets for communication, and accessibility to information has never been easier, we have just endured the most dumbed-down campaign in the province’s history. There was more integrity in the political campaigns of the post-confederation years when voters were bribed with whiskey and hard cash. At least then the voter was clear on why he (and in those days it was he only) was voting. Now the voter is bombarded from all sides with promises that clearly cannot be kept, delivered by leaders who know it.
The only way this unhealthy trend can be reversed is for a leader or a party to show the requisite fortitude to refuse to play the game. Ask most voters what they want in a government and they would probably say,’ just give me a government that has some semblance of competence who won’t screw things up too much and maybe will tell the truth once in a while about the hard issues.’ That is a pretty modest request but in these days of sharply diminished expectations, it would be a huge step forward. Advice to voters in the Bay Area? Forget about parties completely. Vote for the person who you think is best human being.