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The enthusiasm gap in this election is infectious

In this week's Market Squared, we look at the Ontario election and wonder, "Where's the anger?"
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By the time you’re reading the next edition of Market Squared, the 2022 provincial election will be in the history books, and we’ll probably be talking about what happens next. For now, let’s talk about the general underwhelming campaign we’ve experienced the last four weeks.

In other words, where’s the anger?  

It was only a few months ago in the midst of the fifth COVID wave and another lockdown that Doug Ford drew the ire of all sides of the political spectrum. After being caught between those who thought he was doing too much, and those who felt he wasn’t doing enough, who was Ford’s constituency? It certainly isn’t environmentalists, post-secondary students, public workers, or parents of kids with autism.

Perhaps it’s just a lack of imagination. No one is able to envision Steven Del Duca or Andrea Horwath leading from the premier’s office, and while reticence about Del Duca, who was part of a government barely four years out of power, is understandable, why are we still stapling “Rae Days” to today’s New Democrats? Guelph’s NDP candidate this election was born two years after Bob Rae became Premier!

As for Mike Schreiner, it’s clear that Guelph can envision him as MPP, but there aren’t enough people around Ontario that can picture him as a premier. At least not as Green Party leader. An interesting suggestion on Canadaland’s “Wag the Doug” podcast advised Schreiner to trade his green jacket for an orange one and become Horwath’s successor. It’s intriguing, but not likely.

But having been to several local debates this election, I’ve been starving for a little intriguing. In so much as we want our politicians to carry themselves with decorum and respect for their fellow candidates, a debate of ideas should at least have a few different ideas to prevent it from descending into a mutual admiration society.

The question I keep getting asked by politically engaged people this election is “Where’s Peter?” The mysterious absence of local Progressive Conservative candidate Peter McSherry at debates and in the media has not gone unnoticed, and not for nothing, but the “We’re busy door-knocking” excuse is not cutting the mustard.

There’s been a lot of discussion in various corners of the media about the PC strategy, whether it’s the radio silence of local candidates or the premier’s refusal to share a full public campaign schedule. I can’t speak to Ford, but the party is doing great harm to candidates like McSherry, candidates with strong community roots that could be enhanced with visibility. It may not win this election, but in four years…?

Also, how are local PC volunteers and voters supposed to see this top-down strategy as anything but a vote of lack-of confidence about their candidate? Most voters don’t follow the inside baseball of what happens inside a campaign, they just know that one of the major party candidates isn’t showing up.

In other words, it’s hard to generate enthusiasm when it seems like it’s lacking in the party itself. Sure, a Conservative politician hasn’t been elected here for 23 years, but you’re not going to elect one without reminding the majority of voters that there’s a real person behind the name on the sign, and not just an empty chair at debates.

This is the fault of top-down Toronto-based political leadership that thinks the way things look are more important than the way things are, and that the only thing that matters is political power, which is only secured one election at a time.

The lack of future thinking is evidenced in the general sense of ennui in this campaign, which is perhaps another act of political engineering because it’s felt like we’ve been in a constant state of election these last five months. It’s a fact of modern life that most Canadians don’t have the ability to maintain interest in politics for that long, so if this campaign feels tired, that’s because it is tired.

And this is the worst time to be tired. COVID-19 is abating, but we don’t know what will happen when fall and winter returns. The climate crisis is here, but people can see beyond the high price of gas. Our education is now locked in the push/pull of whether the point of school is job training or education for its own sake. And housing? That’s a mess that’s impenetrable to any immediate or simple solution.

The massive size of these problems is a consequence of short-term political thinking, and successive governments simply doing what it takes to get elected and re-elected. They’ve been committed to the self-fulfilling prophecy that the electorate has no patience for complex, long-term solutions, and now it feels like we have no time to enact those solutions, regardless of whether or not they’re right.

Although Election Day is Thursday, it basically feels like this election’s been over for a while. Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that we all are over this election.

At least there’s a whole other election this year but considering that no one’s filed their papers in one of those races for over a week now (as of Friday morning) I think it’s safe to say that the enthusiasm gap persists.