Blogs & Comment

This election matters

The 2011 federal election matters even if it's the fourth one in seven years.

Today’s must-read column is from William Watson, who rightly asks: “Who can complain about this election?”.

Answering his own question, Watson points out that lots of people have been complaining, most prominently in the press. Sure, Stephen Harper spent the first few days bitching and moaning about the “reckless and unnecessary” election, but the nation’s pundits were quick to agree. (Writing in the Chronicle Herald, Jim Meek won the office pool by being the first to invoke Kim Campbell’s line about an election being no time to talk smart or whatever; Darrell Bricker gets a big No-Prize for invoking the dreaded “Seinfeld election” routine. Originality, people! Please!).

Anyway, following along with Watson, it’s all wrong-headed whinging anyway. By the standards of the last decade, this has been a remarkably policy-and-ideas heavy election. Let’s rehearse:

The 2000 election had two highlights. Jean Chretien telling everyone who would listen that Albertans were untrustworthy, and Stock Day holding up a shady-hitchhiker sign at the debates that read “No TWO-TIER Healthcare”.

In 2004, Paul Martin squeaked his way to victory on a platform that amounted to two things. “Jean Chretien was a bad guy”, and “Whatever you want, I want”. And that’s it. For the rest of the campaign, the hot journalistic trick was to stick a mic in front of a group of 20-somethings and ask if they felt “alienated”.  The Globe and Mail ran daily Alienated Voter updates, while the CBC gave tons of airtime to groups like the Edible Ballot Society, who advocated doing that very thing on the somewhat specious grounds that, “no matter who you vote for, you end up with a government.”

In 2006, the RCMP intervened mid-way and gave the election to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

The 2008 election featured Stephane Dion lurching around with his dog Kyoto, failing to make himself understood in English while toying with an alliance with Elizabeth May. Jack Layton pitched some old ideas as The New Strong. And Stephen Harper ran a flawless campaign that waged war on people who go the the NAC, earning himself another minority in return.

This election has had some grim moments — Twitter has certainly upped the ante in myriad ways. But there is no question that, for the first time since 1997, Canadians are being offered distinct visions of the federal government and the role it is to play in the lives of Canadians. My colleague at Maclean’s, Andrew Coyne, says that the movement is merely “inside the 45 yard lines”, but that all depends on where you put the endzones. If one endzone is Soviet Russia, the other Pinochet’s Chile, then yes, the movement is quite narrow.

But that isn’t the relevant playing field. Yes, the scope for socio-economic experimentation in a liberal democracy has narrowed considerably since the end of the Second World War, and that is for the best. In 2011 the Tories, Liberals, NDP and Greens offer Canadians and clear choice. If you can’t find a party to vote for in this election, then deep down, you don’t believe in democracy.