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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Election day dilemma

Election day is Oct. 21. Do you have your mind made up? — Elections Canada photo

I’m discouraged.

With only hours left before voting day, I’m still looking for a reason to vote for either a candidate or a party.

It wasn’t like this last election. After watching Stephen Harper’s government for years, anything seemed like a life-ring. This time, it’s a choice between two parties that love their dirty tricks and whose leaders look like followers, and a third party that’s likely to play spoiler and has grandiose but unreasonably expensive policies.

(In case you think I’m being needlessly obtuse, that’s the Liberals, Conservative and NDP, in that order.)

Keep in mind, I’m not telling anyone else how to vote. That’s between you and your conscience and the ballot box.

But why am I discouraged?

Because, on the whole, this feels more like an election dictated by backroom strategists than it does like an election about ideas or the future.

Everything — even the “gotcha” moments — feels staged, timed for maximum effect.

If they’re so professional, why does it feel so obviously like amateur hour?

Handy video of Andrew Scheer not standing in the House of Commons as the national anthem was sung? (It was, he said, a protest over new gender-neutral words to the anthem.)

Either way, the footage has been around for more than three years but was handily “dropped” in the last week of the campaign, with the most flag-wrapped “hero Canadian” Liberal, former astronaut Marc Garneau, doing the dirty work of delivering the trash.

Garneau tweeted, oh so righteously, “I’ve served my country in uniform, in Parliament and in Space. I’m shaking my head watching this. Watch @andrewscheer sit through O Canada while MPs from all parties sing it in celebration.”

(The tweet was handily translated into French so both versions could be posted simultaneously. And I’m not really sure why Garneau was shaking his head “watching this” — voting records at the House of Commons show he would have been right there in the chamber when it happened.)

The “outrage,” like so many of the events in this campaign, feels like it was planned — right down to the way the footage was delivered and commented on by Garneau, rather than by Justin Trudeau, so Trudeau would be unscathed if the effort went sideways.

I think this is what happens when politicians answer to “election professionals,” micromanaging everything from behaviour to tone, answers to questions and non-answers to questions. No one in either the Liberals or the Conservatives seems to care whether the latest attack is true or false — they just want to dish it out and do the damage. And watching the way the attacks roll out, it’s clear that the process is structured and deliberate, with the timing and approach dictated by professional advice.

But if they’re so professional, why does it feel so obviously like amateur hour? Anyone watching any of the debates would see how stilted it looks when the words coming out of politicians’ mouths are written by someone else’s crayons.

It’s bad enough that in the mud-slinging age of the internet, everything now has to be bigger; it’s not enough for Andrew Scheer to question Justin Trudeau’s ethics, Scheer has to pronounce that Trudeau is “corrupt,” a term you can’t really toss around unless corruption has been proven by something like, I don’t know, a judge, because corruption is actually a criminal act.

It’s worse when you know that the “corrupt” line has been kept in reserve, timed and thrown out there as a specific weapon in the timeline of an over-choreographed campaign.

I don’t like being played by smug backroom types who think they are smarter than everyone else, and who believe that elections are about gaming the rubes. It reminds me ever so much of the complaint that Conservative MPs and senators had during the Harper years, of having to act on the orders of “the kids in short pants” who held power in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Here’s a message for the backroom during this election: we can see you back there, pulling the levers and giggling to beat the band like it’s all a big game.

And you know what the real hell of this is?

Whoever gets elected is going to be grateful for the “skills” of their handlers, and give those unelected lever-pullers even more behind-the-scenes power.

I want to elect a leader.

If I wanted a marionette, I’d go to puppet show.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire publications across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky

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