What is happening to our democracy?
These are not good times for democracy!
Last evening I went to an all-candidates Q+A in the Lakeside Resort in Penticton. Five candidates were there – three women, two men. The moderator was the Valley Editor for the daily newspapers in the Okanagan Valley. There were four representatives of various media on the questioners’ panel. The ballroom was perhaps half-full by the time the event was fully underway. Many were wearing badges indicating support for one candidate or another, the rest by-and-large were somewhat grey in the colour of their hair.
The room was very nice, had a good sound system with plenty of mikes and a couple of lecterns, chairs were comfortable and plentiful, and there were water stations with real glasses. It was a nice setting (if it wasn’t for daylight saving, there would have even been a wonderful view of Okanagan Lake, but I digress). If you didn’t have something important or even better to do, you might as well have come to the ballroom — might have helped fill it up. Yes it was a pleasant evening. In fact in the lobby was the dragon-boat Survivorship promoting those valiant women who have been afflicted with breast cancer yet are capable of some very serious paddling. The decorum of the lobby perhaps was to help prepare us for the evening.
I think it did; well, at least I think it made the coming and the leaving more thoughtful…
Oh yes, now I remember, this is to be about the actual debates. I apologize. I did more than digress – I lost my focus and some of my memory. So let’s get back to the Debates…
Perhaps by now you can tell that I was somewhat underwhelmed by it all. I’m not sure where to put the blame, if it is blame rather than simply ennui. Over a two hour period, about the only highlight that I can honestly say stuck with me was the performance of the PPC candidate. This guy was somewhat rough around the edges, and he didn’t demonstrate that he had a large squad of handlers, but he was honest and straightforward. He admitted when he didn’t have a complete answer to give (and would refer everybody to look up the party platform on the website), and even sat down once before his allotted time because he said he didn’t have a full answer at this time. He stressed that he was not going to try to buy their votes like candy from a Hallowe’en bag and as he looked out over the audience at all the grey heads, he said the PPC would do nothing special for any group (seniors included), but rather lower taxes for all people, straighten out the deficit/debt spending problems and make government smaller, and remove the carbon tax and the capital gains tax. Will he get elected, not likely; but was it ever refreshing to have a candidate that was fairly close to the ground and very much speaking like someone who actually had a vision for a better world. He is a veteran and since leaving the armed forces is now a paramedic-type individual. His best line of the night came during a conversation about the oppioid crisis: I spent the first half of my working life learning to put holes in people’s bodies and the last half trying to plug holes in people’s bodies – trust me I know the problem and it won’t be solved by simple solutions.
So what was it that kept me in my chair for over two hours and only one glass of cold water? Hope, I guess. Hope that sooner or later one of the panellists would ask a really succinct question or one of the candidates would give more than a glib or condescending response. By the end of the evening this is what I learned.
• For all the promise of hardball questions, the panel really didn’t realize that the purpose was to educate the audience, not show how good they were at asking complicated questions that even Kim Campbell would have ignored.
• Some of the panel were actually rude in that they were disparaging of a couple candidates even having a chance at winning – to my mind that wasn’t their job at all. A better use of their energies would have been to work on getting some really good questions that would illuminate our voting choices.
• Both the candidates’ introductory speeches and their concluding remarks demonstrated a real opportunity for a communications coach to get some clients – they were singularly uninspiring, causing many to leave the place just wondering who to vote for (even some who came rather committed to one party or another).
• The Liberal candidate is running on the great record of the past four years and will be an independent voice with real access to power – but was neither asked nor offered any insight into what would happen if her position was ever at odds with the PMO. Moreover she claims she can get things done, pointing out that when she stepped down from a college board she was able to get an Aboriginal to succeed her. That was about it.
• The Green candidate was very sincere, often agreeing with either the Liberal or the NDP position, but was sure that she could do it better and, anyway the important thing was not to let the Conservatives win. She got into politics because of the SNC scandal but never went into any depth about why or how that would shape her politics going further.
• The Conservative candidate was very certain that the Liberals hadn’t been a good government, especially for this riding. Moreover her seven years on city council had given her lots of insights and experience working with political problems and their solutions. She didn’t explain nor was she asked how that all squared with her blind support of the mayor who tried to sell off a good chunk of a major park on Skaha Lake and when almost every citizen in town rebelled the Council had to spend a quarter of a million dollars to get out of the deal.
• The NDP candidate who actually is the incumbent was priceless in his promises. Everything, including universal pharmacare was going to be implemented in the first year and the very rich would pay for it (the 0.1% at the top) even though the price tag seems north of $15 billion. I didn’t know we had that many multi-billionaires in Canada. What was most telling though was when he claimed to have brought $100 million of federal dollars into the riding, someone asked him to name a project that he actually helped initiate. His response: Well I sign so many applications for people; maybe someone in the audience can remember!
• Every candidate is against crime although some thought that petty crime was not a big issue because those perpetrators need mental health assistance and often are homeless and addicted to drugs. When it was suggested that people who have had their homes broken into don’t think it’s all that petty, those candidates tended to suggest the victims were really those who committed the acts. So that conversation didn’t really help illuminate anything.
• As for deficits and debt, the Liberals, NDP and Greens thought it was okay to borrow against the future, because we all will be richer in the future and so we won’t mind paying for it and besides some economist said it’s alright. The Conservatives and PPC thought that argument a little strange, comparing it to one’s personal spending – if you don’t live within your means, sooner rather than later, a reckoning is going to happen and it won’t be pretty. The former three said that was just scare tactics, even though everyone agreed that when knocking on doors, the prevailing theme was that people were scared their financial foundation was too precarious.
• Everyone is in favour of affordable housing even though like health care it’s a provincial responsibility. The big three on the left said there needs to be a national strategy; the other two on the right said it really needed to be solved on a local community by community basis. No one mentioned that a great deal has already been done in recent years by the provincial government, especially in the Okanagan.
• Gun control came up but honestly I can’t remember what any one said. At least though I know no one was in favour of letting people buy tanks or armoured LAV’s. Some also thought that high efficiency army-grade machine guns were a bit much. Some actually thought that increased border security would most likely keep most of the illegal guns out of the country (which according to a colleague, actually is a very reasonable and doable thing).
• As for fiscal management, I know I sound like a broken record on this one but the NDP candidate simply couldn’t get his numbers right nor did they add up to anything but a horrendous deficit or tax increase (I also think he said to trust him because some provincial governments managed quite well, neglecting to point out that the only one that ever came close was in Saskatchewan and if the truth be told, it was right-of-centre). The Green candidate thought it would all work out if those big bad corporations who are causing all the trouble by stashing their money overseas were just taxed on that money instead of being let off the hook by federal governments. The Liberal really didn’t seem to think this was a topic worth debating. The Conservative didn’t like the Liberal’s approach but never pointed out the reason for the Harper government’s big deficit in 2008 was the world economy collapsed and from then on it worked back to negligible deficits and the country thrived. The PPC simply reminded everyone that any promises made during the campaign are promises made to spend us the people’s own money.
I’m not sure there is anything else to report. I do know that there were no questions about the ethics of government, no questions about the power of the PMO versus the House of Commons, no conversation about what kind of a role Canada should play in the international community (other than we need immigrants, especially ones that are ready, willing and able to work within the economy), no discussion about how the individuals would stand up to their own leader on matters affecting the riding let alone issues of principle. It was a rambling evening that ended with an invitation to go to another all-candidates forum tonight in another town where a similar process would be used, except that there would be an opportunity for questions from the audience. My only thought: spare me the agony, if trained reporters can’t ask reasonable, to-the-point questions, what will disgruntled, scared voters do… so, instead I wrote this chapter…
This whole experience has caused me to really question my vote…and that is the most unsettling thing I’ve ever experienced in an election campaign – the thought that it might be none of the above… (stay tuned!!)