Ontarians are getting ready to enter the province’s 42nd election in early June of 2018 and, boy, it’s going to be a zinger. After much speculation earlier this summer, Kathleen Wynne has promised she will continue to carry the torch as leader for the Ontario Liberals in the next election. Wynne currently holds an approval rating of 17 per cent, a few points higher than in recent months but still lower than despised U.S. President Donald Trump, and for good reasons.
Recently, however, it is PC leader Patrick Brown who is being compared to Trump by the Ontario Liberal Party. Why? With a war chest of an estimated $16 million dollars, the attack ads are rolling out from the PCs and it’s clear Wynne and her gang aren’t too thrilled. The latest commercial features newspaper headlines with a narration about Liberal scandals and the untrustworthy behaviour of the Liberal Party of Ontario. In all honesty, nothing said in the ad is exaggerated or untrue. Over the past 14 years the Liberal Party has seen its share of scandals and problems. They are currently in court for two different issues, and have been under five different OPP investigations. If they aren’t happy with their dirty laundry being aired maybe they need to change the way they operate.
One of the things that makes me laugh is that it was just weeks ago that Wynne threatened to sue Patrick Brown after he misspoke and stated she was “standing trial” while she testified at the Sudbury byelection scandal case involving two of her former political operatives. She gave him six weeks to meet her list of demands or she would pursue with legal action. He ignored her threats, and I applaud him for that. In 2014, Wynne had a lawsuit against then PC leader Tim Hudak and PC MPP Lisa MacLeod for statements they made about Wynne’s supposed connection in the infamous gas plant scandal. The suit was dropped after Wynne won the election in 2015 and nothing else came of it. So, why does all this matter going into the next election?
Before the 2016 U.S presidential election, name calling and slander were popular in elections and pigeonholing voters and candidates was not unusual, but today it’s growing rampant. Since the beginning of the U.S election the newest counter-attack seems to be calling your opponent or their supporters names and making comparisons of them to odious people–dead or alive. Trump is the newest and most infamous figure to compare others to as an insult in Canadian politics. (In reality, he’s grown the American economy–jobs and the stock market are booming, and America is being taken seriously by other nations–this must be hard to grasp for left-wing politicians using him for this tactic of smearing by association.)
Last week, Mayor Nenshi of Calgary, who is looking to secure his third term in office, called supporters of his opponents “racists and haters”. The only problem is the “racists and haters” he is referring to are many of the very same people who put him in office the first two times. As you can imagine, Calgary residents were less than impressed with this childish behaviour and stated they don’t like the job he’s done and feel it’s time for change.
While I have to admit that I am a fan of attack ads, I do also believe there is a clear line between attacking the behaviours and actions of a person and attacking the person as an individual. This also applies to the person under attack. Using shaming as a way to divert attention away from yourself is a low move, and trying to guilt and shame people into voting for you is a terrible strategy. But politics is politics, and diversion and vilification and minimization are all tactics of politicians trying to get voters to forget about issues and for them to escape honest scrutiny.
The issue moving forward is that there are people like Wynne or Nenshi running for office who instead of taking responsibility for their actions and admitting their faults would rather turn it around and insult and pigeonhole voters and their opponents. By calling someone who doesn’t support you a racist, misogynist, bigot, or compare your opponent to a notorious person they have nothing in common with, you are doing democracy a disservice. In fact, failing to be able to take responsibility for or acknowledge your actions and accept that most voters genuinely may be sick of your lies and equivocation over your faulty policies probably means you should drop out of the race and quit while you’re behind.
But how do we make sure that these tactics don’t become control mechanisms for failing politicians to use to secure votes by means of psychological manipulation? These same tactics worked for the OLP in the last few elections. How do we ensure that voters are free to decide who they want controlling their money and, more and more commonly, their lives through laws and policies if they fear being labeled or seen as a bad person for doing what’s needed or right? (Like making cuts in the most indebted sub-sovereign jurisdiction in the developed world that spends billions a year servicing our crippling level of debt.) Maybe it will take a few more election cycles until we hit rock bottom and wise up, or maybe people will see through the melodramatic desperation this time around. Either way, grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.
Sarah is a 34-year-old Hamiltonian with a background in addictions counseling and criminal psychology. She has spent the past several years participating in local politics, advocating on behalf of taxpayers. Sarah recently ran as a candidate in a Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario riding nomination.