This is the first time in over a decade that I will not be spending all my time in a campaign office during an election that’s taking place where I live.
When you’re working on a local campaign in support of a potential member of parliament, you pay little attention to the province-wide or national race. When you’re embedded in campaign Headquarters (depending on your role), you feel every little news item and soundbite reverberate through the office.
Now I fall somewhere in between – aware of what the top news of the day has been, but not all the other smaller items that didn’t pique the media’s interest. Essentially, I’ve become an interested everyday voter.
And for people like me, and those paying even less attention, week one of this federal election has been a disaster. With a fixed election date this campaign has been revving up for well over a year. And now that it’s here, we’re already one week down and not any closer to knowing what Canada could look like after October 21.
It’s All Sausage to Journalists
When an election takes place in Australia, voters often leave the polling station with a sausage or piece of cake in hand. So-called ‘Democracy Sausage’ selfies fill twitter on election day as voters stop by the polling station and then the sausage stall outside after they exercise their mandatory vote.
It’s become so ingrained in Australia political culture that the last national election saw the creation of a website to track stall locations for voters to visit. Why do Australians do this? I’m not sure even they know beyond simple tradition. But it’s a mix of sausage and politics I can fully get behind.
The kind I’m not as interested in is the kind I saw from journalists across the country all week – story after story about campaign process issues that don’t matter one bit to Canadian voters. There’s an old saying about politics that like sausages, no one wants to see how laws are made. The same is true about how a campaign is being run when the future of the country is at stake.
And yet coverage of the first week of the campaign focused on a light scrape between the Liberal plane and a media bus, the fact that Jagmeet Singh’s communications team sent out a media-copy of a speech he gave with staging notes still included, and that Andrew Scheer’s tour team chose a venue for an event where Doug Ford once posed for a photo with Faith Goldy.
Seriously. The Liberal bus just crashed into the Liberal plane wing. pic.twitter.com/fFL6YbnW7m— Tonda MacCharles (@TondaMacC) September 12, 2019
Copy of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s campaign launch speech, shared with media, includes stage direction. pic.twitter.com/RdZZBTZpdz— Glen McGregor (@glen_mcgregor) September 11, 2019
Oh cool, Andrew Scheer is kicking off his campaign in the same place that Doug Ford posed for a photo with Faith Goldy. https://t.co/zSWNbMtPjt— Jonathan Goldsbie (@goldsbie) September 11, 2019
Literally none of this matters to anyone beyond campaign teams looking to pump themselves up for the campaign at the expense of their opponents and the media who love process stories and then wonder why voters are so turned off by elections, political parties, and the media.
Rob Benzie from the Toronto Star smartly quoted Susan Delacourt in summarizing this entire approach by the press:
As @SusanDelacourt wrote last week: “At some point a leader’s bus or plane will break down or get lost, and no matter whose campaign it is, the metaphors will start flying. Never mind that the actual leader wasn’t driving the bus or responsible for the maintenance of the plane.” https://t.co/6z6KSmDuYo— Robert Benzie (@robertbenzie) September 12, 2019
The one journalist who has been on top of everything in the first week is the CBC’s Katie Simpson who has doggedly pursued candidates who have done or said problematic things in the past and have yet to own up to them or demonstrate the kind of real growth that most Canadians want to see. One of those candidates was Andrew Scheer himself.
Asked Scheer if he needs to apologize for comments in made in 2005 on same sex marriage, given the framework he’s set out for candidates and their past controversial comments. He does not apologize.— Katie Simpson (@CBCKatie) September 15, 2019
There is still plenty of time for journalists to dive further into whether candidates really represent the views of the people whose votes they’re vying for and what kind of Canada each of the parties hope to build. In week one they were largely spoon-fed the former from campaign war room teams and barely touched on the latter.
A Campaign About Nothing
While the journalists have been disappointing, the campaign teams have provided even less hope that this campaign might actually reflect the concerns of Canadians by October 21.
The party who had the best week was the NDP. Jagmeet impressed many in the corporate media leaders’ debate, there were no major gaffes (stage direction notes don’t count), and some of their policies actually broke through in the news.
Of course, their week was made better by the absolute disaster that was the Green’s first week. After being puffed up by journalists and pollsters ahead of the campaign launch, they spent the first week defending candidates who didn’t merit a defense, Elizabeth May failed to grasp the basic details of the sovereignty movement in Quebec, and it became very clear to many progressives that a commitment to the environment doesn’t always come with a commitment to social liberalism. Many people thought the first week might end with voters wondering whether women’s healthcare would be under threat under Andrew Scheer. What they didn’t have on their bingo sheets was the possibility of the same reality under Elizabeth May.
Andrew Scheer also had a terrible week as his only policy that got any coverage was his tax cut that gives a small amount back to lower-income voters while also rewarding millionaires with tax breaks they don’t need. But even that announcement was marred by his inability to apologize for his past comments comparing same-sex marriage to the tail of a dog and refusing to kick out racists, homophobes, and misogynists from his slate of candidates in this election.
Fueling most of the controversy Scheer faced was the talented Liberal War Room team. But with Trudeau (rightly) skipping the corporate media debate and little new to say on policy so far, the Liberal team didn’t offer enough to voters to get them into a polling station to re-elect their government.
In 2015, a mix of nostalgia and hope (and some hard work) propelled Trudeau and his team into office. Some of that is still there for die-hards but swing voters, especially the ‘what have you done for me lately’ type that decide elections from their communities in the 905, have very little to latch on to so far. A lot of the Trudeau record is strong (child poverty numbers as just one example) – but voters who feel like they’re just scraping by won’t coast on the fumes of ‘what’s just been’. I’m not convinced tweaks around the margins of existing policies (first-time home-buyer incentive) will do the trick.
The Bottom Line
When you look at each of these campaigns all together, it’s clear that so far this election is about absolutely nothing. And unless something changes, the polling stations will be just as empty on Election Day.