By Alexander Campbell
Special to The Cheap Seats
Our politics is stupid.
Our politicians aren’t stupid. In fact, they’re often accomplished and intelligent people. But they care and they try to make us care about the absolute stupidest things that they can humanly highlight.
I have no idea why this is. Can someone tell me what the main issue is supposed to be in the upcoming federal election?
Is it Electoral Reform? One campaign – exactly one – has proposed an exact change. Another has promised to study change. The other has said nothing.
Is it the Economy? If so, what are the different parties going to do? Thomas Mulcair gave a much ballyhooed address in which his major economic policy proposal was a reduction in the small business tax rate from 11 to 9 percent.
Justin Trudeau would like us to know he believes in “middle class economics” and Stephen Harper would like us to know that income splitting, tax credits and other measures will improve economic performance.
Believe it or not, this is the closest we come to an actual debate.
That is, unless you turn on your TV and see no fewer than four different third parties telling you that Justin Trudeau is an airhead and Stephen Harper is just in it to help his rich buddies.
As yet, no one’s attacked Thomas Mulcair though that’s likely more because they didn’t think they would have to rather than because of any virtues he may or may not possess as a candidate.
We are intentionally making our politics more stupid.
The fact that campaigns both by political parties and third parties are focused more on the personal than policy, does us all an incredible disservice.
Let’s return to the economy for a second. A week ago, the Centre for Policy Alternatives released a study that showed that, in Ontario, one in eight Ontarians now work for minimum wage. That’s up from one in 40 in 1997.
Thirty per cent of Ontarians now make less than $16 an hour and four in 10 of those people have work hours that are “unpredictable” from one week to the next.
This study received little press last week when it was released and it should absolutely scare the hell out of all of us.
It’s the reason why we all deserve to have a real debate about the economy this fall instead of Justin Trudeau’s hair, Thomas Mulcair’s beard or how scary Stephen Harper is.
But the politics of personal destruction is way easier. It motivates certain segments of the voter base that are reliably partisan. It also motivates volunteers and generates campaign donations.
It also deters new voters from engaging in the process because those voters are less predictably partisan and campaign strategists are less sure that they want them voting at all.
This kind of politics ebbed down into Belleville City Council this week when a tiff between Councillors McCaw and Denyes from a couple weeks back took over yet another council meeting as McCaw requested an apology for marks she deemed disparaging. Denyes refused.
McCaw felt her privilege as a member of Council had been violated and requested a ruling.
Those who have traditionally voted with Denyes on council did so again when the mayor ruled McCaw’s privilege hadn’t been violated. Those who have traditionally voted with McCaw did so here in opposition to the mayor.
It was an entirely predictable result that distracted from major issues that were debated at Council that night.
Whether Denyes intended to cause offence is clearly beside the point. Five year-olds are taught by their parents and Kindergarten teachers that if someone takes offence to something you said, you apologize. Not because you did something wrong but because if someone had done it to you, you’d want them to apologize.
This is a basic lesson all children are given to teach them empathy.
The stakes are comparatively low when you’re five. They’re considerably higher and have the potential to do much more damage if you’re a member of Belleville City Council or a candidate for Prime Minister.
The politics of personal destruction is making our politics stupid. And the stupidity of our politics is starting to cost all of us.
Senator Alexander Campbell was campaign manager for Sir John A. Macdonald and the sixth lieutenant governor of Ontario. The actual author has asked that his name not be made public at this time and has chosen Alexander Campbell as a pseudonym in part to recognize Sir John’s 200th birthday