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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Politics takes a nasty turn

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau argue a point at the English-language leaders' debate on Oct. 7, 2019.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer argue a point during the English-language leaders' debate on Oct. 7, 2019. — Sean Kilpatrick/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

It used to be common decency to at least wait for the boss to be fired before campaigning for his job.

But in the world of Canadian politics, things seem to be different these days. There were, even before the federal election began, suggestions about likely replacements for Justin Trudeau if he manages to drive the Liberal bus over a figurative cliff during the campaign.

But Wednesday’s news in the Globe and Mail that a group of Conservatives is looking at a leadership campaign to have former Conservative MP Peter MacKay replace Andrew Scheer if Scheer fails to topple the Liberals?

Man, the world of opportunism knows no bounds.

Because think carefully about what that means: at a crucial point in the campaign, a point where Scheer is out trying to prove he’s got the goods to be prime minister, senior people in his own party believe there’s a better choice. That cannot play well to Canadian voters — especially as Scheer weathers a sustained Liberal attack suggesting he can’t be trusted. You can almost hear the Liberal strategists rubbing their hands together and pitching slogans back and forth like “Andrew Scheer? Even his own party doesn’t trust his judgment.”

It’s like drawing up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is all a sign of a bigger problem: political parties don’t seem to be about governing anymore. No, they seem to be more about winning — and that might be exactly why so many voters I talk to just throw up their hands and say something akin to “a pox on all their houses.”

That feeling seems to be being deepened by the dirty direction the campaign as a whole has taken. Just like many people suggested it would, the wholesale movement of campaigns into the keyboard-fast world of social media has meant lies have proliferated and half-truths have been sold and the real goods — to the point where outright falsehoods are knowingly picked up and spread by political machines with absolutely no concern about whether they are right or not.

The spreaders know that first impressions are lasting — you read that a politician is under investigation for something (or might be under investigation for something), and even if what you read is completely debunked, the target is still successfully stained. That’s why it’s called a smear. (And you might never actually see the debunking — I’ve seen stories proven false months ago still spreading out faithfully like ripples from the impact of the original rock of lies, and had them cited to me as “proof.” They are proof, of course, but only of the fact that people are more prepared to believe smears that support their already-established beliefs.)

Hit send first; apologize — never.

It works, and that’s a problem.

Because it works, parties will use it, just the way that companies trim staff to bolster their short-term financial results for shareholders. Focusing on right now takes your eyes off the long game.

Political parties don’t seem to be about governing anymore. No, they seem to be more about winning…

For a company, the long game should be building a business that can last and can keep its best and brightest both working, and working within the company’s walls. Not pumping up this quarter’s numbers.

For governments, you’d think the long game would be building a better, more hopeful, more successful nation over the next century and laying the groundwork for smart, educated decisions to take root and grow — not dishing out promises for the reward of four years at the trough.

But take-no-prisoners attacks and deftly salting the ground with sleazy snap attacks and talking about switching up leaders before they’ve even had a chance to put their feet on the ground means nothing can grow. There simply isn’t enough time.

Campaigning at all costs for the short term only serves to make the electorate even more discouraged about politicians and their goals and, yes, about the people who report on the endless sleaze as well.

I’d love to see an election where voters had a chance to see thoughtful politicians promising to plant the seeds that would grow over years to benefit our children and or children’s children.

That’s governing.

I’m not sure anyone even does that anymore.

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


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