In an ideal democracy, voters can choose the government they want. What we have in this year’s federal election is something a little different.
Much of the advertising and commentary during this campaign is not about choosing the best possible candidate or party to form the next government. Instead, the message is to reject the worst options.
Attack ads, criticizing the record of the federal Conservatives or Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or calling out statements made by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau or New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair, have defined this election campaign.
And for more than a year, an army of opponents of the Harper Conservatives have crusaded on social media, posting news articles, editorials and opinion pieces, begging Canadians to vote the Tories out of office.
At best, this negative campaigning is incomplete.
Canadians have more than two choices in any federal election. At the dissolution of Parliament, there were 159 Conservatives, 95 New Democrats, 36 Liberals, two Bloc Québécois members, two Greens and two Strength in Democracy members in the House of Commons. Four of the 308 seats were vacant.
Even in the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, rejecting any one candidate still leaves three other choices.
Negative campaigns are not a suitable way to make a choice, especially for a role as important as that of an elected official.
As voters, we are responsible for hiring someone to work on our behalf and as our advocate at the federal government level. We are the employers; our Member of Parliament is our employee.
No reasonable employer or board of directors would select an employee in this way.
It would be akin to telling an applicant, “I don’t like you, I don’t trust you and I don’t think you’re competent, but at least you’re not quite as bad as the others. You’re hired.”
I can’t think of anyone who would take a job with such an employer. This attitude on the part of an employer or a board of directors would result in a terrible work environment.
If an employer or board ends up dissatisfied with all candidates, another call for applicants would be issued or an executive search team would be hired to find someone suitable for the position.
Negative campaigning has become the sad reality of election campaigns in Canada, at all levels of government.
We deserve better.
At times, a candidate, a leader or a party deserves to be called out, for any number of reasons. There are times to reject bad government or bad leadership. But it can’t stop there.
Critics need to offer a better alternative.
If one party’s policy is lacking or potentially destructive, then make sure to mention a party with a better platform.
If one leader or local candidate is not a wise choice, then suggest someone else who is better suited for the role.
In other words, tell us why one choice is best, not just why another is the worst.
It’s easy to criticize a bad option but it’s far more difficult to recommend a positive alternative.
It’s easy to blast one’s political opponents but presenting a workable alternative requires a lot of thought and effort.
This extra work means voters don’t need to feel pressured to reject the worst choices. Instead, they can select the government they want.
This is how a democracy is supposed to work.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.