Leading up to this fall’s federal elections, the race is in full swing, and unlike previous years, this time it’s a three-way race. The NDP has stepped up their game and, frankly, Thomas Mulclair is a fit leader. After seeing Alberta turn orange in provincial elections and watching the polls, Conservatives and Liberals alike are awakening to the true competition. Bigger than the reality of the threat however is the media behind it. I argue that too many Canadians lack the knowledge they need to truly represent their interests in a Canadian leader, but beyond that, the media that is easiest to access may not be the best source of information.
Every election, I make the same argument to my colleagues: this country is too convoluted by the image of American politics. Our political system is much more about numbers and overall representation than it is about one particular leader. Sure, Harper is an aggressive leader and definitely pushes his personal policies into the public eye, but there is a majority government behind him (which lest we forget we elected). So how has Harper managed to reign in media for eight years? In Mark Bourrie’s book Kill the Messengers, the award-winning Canadian journalist criticizes Harper’s ability to minimize media attention by going to the source and cutting the ability of government information to be passed to the public. Working hand in hand with a crumbling traditional media industry, the increasingly limited resources of small, local newspapers works to Harper’s advantage by keeping correspondents out of Ottawa and streamlining the core messaging leaving Parliament Hill. Beyond that, Harper’s government has taken media production into their own hands by producing infomercials on strategies such as the ‘Economy Action Plan’ aired during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There’s no doubt in recent days our ears have been privy to Conservative attack ads aimed at bringing down Trudeau. Personally I haven’t understood the logic behind some of their arguments, such as their suggestion that instead of having a national defense strategy against ISIS, Trudeau wants to send winter coats to Syria. Looking more closely at Trudeau’s address in Edmonton in November, there is a clear undertone that Canada’s stance on the issue in Syria should be focusing our efforts on those affected by war such as refugees and displaced people. And aren’t peace missions and talks what Canada has built an international reputation on? Interestingly, when I interviewed war correspondents (aka the ‘media’) as part of my research at the LSE, the real stories were about the displaced people and the citizens that had become the true victims of war.
But back to politics: the new kid on the block of political attacks has become Mulclair. The Conservatives have claimed Mulclair was to be assigned as environmental adviser to the Harper government in 2007, but rejected the job because they did not meet his demand for a $300,000 salary (and instead was offered a ‘moderate’ $180,000). Mulclair has responded to Maclean’s magazine stating that it wasn’t the paycheck, but the Conservative policy that turned him off; it was clear to him that the party had no intention of respecting the Kyoto Protocol. In my opinion, if this is the Conservatives’ idea of a so-called ‘scandal’, then they’re clearly lacking dirt on the NDP candidate. On a separate note, recent polls showed the NDP to be dragging in the race for social media. While some may view this as a minor setback, it could impact the younger vote and shift a more dynamic youth in the direction of Liberals or even Greens.
Trudeau in my opinion is the real wildcard. Media has focused on some of his more loose statements. Perhaps his extreme and outlandish comments will work in his favour and draw in curiosity and attention, but they may also show a lack of prioritization and political maturity. Going back to my earlier statement however, it’s not about the leader, it’s about the whole package. And Liberals stand on a solid platform that goes back to some of Canada’s more forward-thinking, yet globally recognized policies and core values. At the end of the day, it’s about looking past the media messages and reading between the lines of policies to see their direct impacts. How will our economy look in five years under each party? Is our environmental policy productive? Are we taking enough initiative on issues of international relations and global security, and what should that initiative look like? As Canadians, we are the deciders of our own fate, and we must remember, collectively, we hold more power than these three candidates combined.