Years ago, over a bottle of wine, a friend told me he had no plans to vote. Or maybe, he said, he would show up and refuse his ballot as a sign that he wasn’t down to clown with our electoral carnival.
I’ll spare you the Sorkin-esque diatribe I launched into. I don’t know if I used the phrase “moral, personal, political, societal obligation” but, boy, it sure felt like I did.
The crux of my argument came to this: Do you support expanded healthcare? A robust, principled foreign policy? More arts and culture funding? Deficit reduction? Support for small business? Infrastructure funding? Free tuition? Fighting climate change?
I checked off a list of policies and principles from all parties. On the fly, like an anthropomorphic Vote Compass, I said: Hey, this party is basically your jam. Your priorities for the country are essentially the same. Why not go cast a vote?
I think the argument devolved into moralizing on the authority of the state and the viability of anarchism, but let’s pretend that my appeal to logic worked. A non-voter converted. It was a great day for democracy.
That discussion was a few elections ago, now. If it were to happen again today, I’m not sure I could offer the same rousing call to implore him to drop that ballot into the urn.
Fact is, at this point, I’m not sure I could gin up an argument for why voters shouldn’t just walk into whatever reappropriated middle school gymnasium we call a polling place and stuff their ballot directly into their mouth.
A federal election is coming, and it feels like we are careening towards it in one of those old-timey mine carts.
I think we need to raise the alarm now that this election promises to be one of the most cravenly partisan, meaningless, superficial elections in recent Canadian his-
Wait a second.
I can’t help but feel like I’ve written this before.
DJ, play that back.
“This promises to be the mostly tight-regulated, neutorically-scripted, superficial, meaningless election in Canadian history. It may well be a stunning reaffirmation of everything wrong with our system and it may be met with frustration, followed by helplessness, followed by disinterest. The microtargeting of a small subsection of the population may deliver a victory for one party or another that, for all intents and purposes, is an empty mandate that should force us to question whether this election is even legitimate. If the majority of the country doesn't vote—not out of laziness, but disgust—what's the point?”
That was me, in this digital magazine, on August 4, 2015. Just before the last election.
I am nothing if not a broken record, I suppose.
But, looking back, the last federal election felt like a repudiation of our basest political instincts. Stephen Harper’s campaign predicated on the notions that Justin Trudeau was too young, too foppish, to be prime minister, and that Muslim women should dress a certain way. Thomas Mulcair and the NDP seemed so confident that they were going to romp to victory that they forgot to campaign for it.
And there was Justin Trudeau, who ran a perfectly palatable brochure of a campaign. There were the big-ticket items: legalizing pot, taxing the rich, a new era of Ottawa-Indigenous relations, electoral reform, spending money. And there were some smaller pieces: transparency, an electric car in every driveway and a queer person in every living room. Big parts of the plan were yaddayaddayadda’d over, but, all things considered, it was a set of promises and ideas that appeared new.
Trudeau, for all his faults— how faulty is he? Let me count the ways—you nevertheless have to credit him with running the only campaign of the three that seemed to believe change was not only possible, but desirable. He actually appealed to a wide and deep desire to make some serious improvements in the country.
Four years on, how has he done? In a word: Trudeau-y.
For starters, it seems incredible that anyone in this government can find time to get anything done, given how much time they spend patting themselves on the back.
I’m sure I’ll get angry emails for this, but for all the handringing, Trudeau managed to legalize cannabis, bring in a physician-assisted dying regime, introduce a national carbon pricing program, enhance the Canada Pension Plan, negotiate a new NAFTA agreement, cut taxes for the bulk of working class folks, forge ahead on improving service delivery for First Nations, amongst a handful of other things. None was done perfectly, but all were done a fair bit better than we had imagined. Looking back in a decade, some of those are going to look monumentous.
But, in politics, you don’t earn your smug air of superiority because you hit a few dingers, especially if you’ve stuffed just as many baseballs down your pants and plodded off with them, hoping nobody would notice.
Electoral reform, overhauling access to information, ending the gay blood ban, eliminating the deficit, expanding electric car charging stations, fixing the no-fly list, phasing out subsidies for oil and gas, reducing Indigenous incarceration, improving access to water on First Nations, improving veterans’ benefits, reforming sex work laws, ending solitary confinement—all abject failures on the policy front. What’s worse, they were failures that the government consistently refused to own up to, preferring to obfuscate and bafflegab their way out of any accountability. All the while, preening themselves on the world stage.
He’s got a rolodex of pat answers to why he’s refused to follow through on things that, during the campaign, he swore were of the utmost importance — and then he flounces off to sit down with Vox and talk feminism.
Amid all this, though, Trudeau appeared set to coast to re-election. Not on the back of a job objectively well done, but on the total weakness of the other candidates for the job.
Andrew Scheer seems typecast for the lead role in an original movie co-produced by CPAC and Lifetime—that is, his tenure as leader has been a vapid stint with unbearable grandstanding that has been so confusing and self-defeating that his plotline must have been written by a malfunctioning algorithm. He has spent an odd amount of time as leader, wandering around demanding everything resign, like an angry Mister Magoo. He has focused so much on the performative aspect of being opposition leader he’s failed to convince anyone he’d actually be a suitable prime minister. Even speaking to the Business Council of Canada—where he should have been greeted as a liberator—“he bombed,” per the Globe & Mail.
Scheer has, instead, spooked moderates by opening himself up to the accusation that he pals around with white supremacists. He spoke at the same rally as Faith Goldy. He hired campaign director Hamish Marshall right out of The Rebel. He launched a bewildering attack against a UN migrant compact which mimicked far-right talking points to an uncomfortable degree. Even when he tries to disavow them, questionable yahoos seem to follow him around. And we must be conscious of the company our politicians keep.
Oh, and then there’s Jagmeet Singh. A leader whose imprint on the Canadian political landscape has, thus far, been so feather-light that you can barely see his footprints in the freshly-fallen snow. Full of ideas in his leadership race, he now appears to have dropped any idea of forward-thinking in favour of saying, doing, and believing nothing at all.
All to say is that, Trudeau for his smug self-satisfaction in the face of a job half done—until a month ago, you could argue he was a more reasonable choice than alt-right-curious Scheer and walk-softly-and-leave-your-stick-at-home Singh.
But then came the SNC-Lavalin affair. A political scandal that is, in many ways, old school cool. A prime minister liked a company. The company liked a dictator in Libya. But prosecutors came between them. So the prime minister tried to bully his justice minister into offering a plea agreement to the company to avoid a fraud trial which could result in the company losing its federal contracts and leaving town. That old story.
There’s been a great many things written about the SNC-Lavalin affair, and many of them are quite good and don’t need repeating.
But the affair has built the narrative that, after years of promising to do things differently, he is now neck-deep in the swamp. He has jettisoned all pretense that he wants to listen to his diverse, accomplished, dependable team and would rather govern from his throne.
After he was called out, Trudeau went to Defcon-fuck and played defence instead of owning up to the obvious faults in his own office. Even his effort to let ex-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speak her truth looked limited and secretive. A campaign of leaks targeting the former minister are, meanwhile, evidently coming from inside the PMO.
There has been a tiny bright spot, in watching members of Trudeau’s party come out and speak their own minds instead of regurgitating half-digested talking points in front of news cameras on the boss’ orders. If that trend continues, it will be enormously positive.
In all, Trudeau is down two ministers and his most trusted advisor. And he appears allergic to admitting his own wrongdoing in the matter.
And while the scandal deserves sustained and serious coverage, it shouldn’t be the only story in the country. It has sucked the oxygen out of Ottawa and killed any intelligent conversation about virtually anything else. The government is as guilty for that as the opposition and the media.
Trudeau seems committed to screwing his screwing up to the sticking place, as he decided to glibly brush off some protesters calling attention to the ongoing environmental disaster in Grassy Narrows by thanking them for their donations to his $1,600-a-head fundraiser they had crashed. He apologized pretty sincerely the morning after, but that hardly erases the unforced error.
So we’re stuck, swirling the drain, endlessly bickering about a political scandal and ignoring, say, the ongoing opioid disaster, climate change which is worsening daily, a humanitarian crisis facing refugees worldwide, a powder keg of volatility in Syria and Iraq, the list goes on. Not one of the three leaders are talking seriously about those issues.
It’s leaving many with the unenviable choice. Opting for Scheer, Singh, or Trudeau feels like trying to pick a flavour of Mountain Dew. At the end of the day, it’s all going to kill you.
The previews of the campaigns themselves look painfully similar to the leaders’ performance we’ve seen in recent months. Scheer, in his attempt to whip up anger and distrust. Trudeau will try and convince the country that Scheer is an evil nutjob who wants to throw your kids in the ocean. And with Jagmeet SIngh the biggest question is whether or not they intend to run a campaign.
There are, of course, the others.
Maxime Bernier has shown himself entirely willing to dress up in 4chan cosplay to win alt-right votes and presents the intellectual seriousness of a MAGA hat—his quest for electoral relevancy will be gross.
Elizabeth May is, despite a legacy of kook eruptions in her Green Party, a more reasonable and agreeable politician than most people give her credit for. It remains to be seen whether she can really rise above the fray to make any serious headway—or whether, after eight years in Parliament, she even really wants to, anymore. But we could do with a few dozen more Elizabeth Mays in Parliament.
And the Bloc exists, too.
What’s worse about this impending election is that a bevy of insufferable meme pages seem hellbent on pushing into the political scene to weaponize Facebook to make you hate Trudeau because he wants to bring in refugee goats, or to post a candidate’s archived Geocities page which gave Will & Grace a negative review. These meme pages are, in an era of truly toxic and uninspiring politics, still the absolute worst thing. It leaves me, someone who has researched and reported on fake news, misinformation, and Russian meddling, not so sure we would notice much of a difference if we were to open the doors and let the botnets ravage us.
My political depression is an odd feeling, here. It’s virtually identical to how I felt as the 2015 election loomed. Yet, that election turned around. A platform of ideas and annoying boyish charm won out, coming from a disaster third to a convincing first.
This time, there appears to be no dandy saviour in Star Wars socks, waiting to rapture exasperated voters from the hellfire made by petty political operatives.
This time, we seem destined to be stuck in this boring dystopia.
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