Jen Gerson: Worst. Election. Ever.

Jen Gerson: Worst. Election. Ever.

Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail, Oct. 14, 2015.

This campaign has been terrible. Our long national nightmare has spanned 78 days making this the longest election campaign in Canada since 1872. And what did we get for our trouble? Well, the Conservatives doubled their spending limits, which has allowed them to back-end much of their advertising dollars; for the party with the fullest coffers, this presented them with an
advantage over both the Liberals and the NDP, particularly if Canadians elect a minority government. Depending on how the progressive parties deployed their cash flow, it’s fairly unlikely that anyone except the Conservatives will be able to launch another full-throated campaign anytime soon.
Oh, but what did we, the voters, get out of this tidbit of chicanery?
We got the Worst Election Ever. As democratic experiments go, we can safely check the fail box on this one. The extended writ period — which fell largely through the summer — didn’t offer a more lofty discussion of the major issues of our day. What we got was a campaign riddled with scandal, division and the ugliest political impulses.
It wasn’t even a writ period, it was just a bunch of partisan gnashing from one petty obsession to the next.
Tweets of the Damned

By far the most defining element of this campaign has been the ceaseless series of candidates who got caught saying and doing stupid things. Several blogs and outlets devoted themselves to dredging social media accounts to find embarrassing gems. Among the most notable; the cup pisser, the prank phone caller and the candidate who didn’t know what Auschwitz was.
Within the first month, these stories were becoming so frequent and banal that I stopped keeping track of all but the most spectacular. After Election 42, we’re now all totally inured to social media misbehaviour. A future candidate should feel free to counsel suicide on Twitter or offer sexist advice on Facebook to his heart’s content.
The only real takeaway from this series of debacles is that I lost faith in Westminster parliamentary democracy. In a country of 35 million, we can’t seem to come up with the 1,000-odd reasonably intelligent adults required keep the system ticking along every four years.
Netflix Tax
Remember that? And the Home Renovation Tax Credit? No?
Canadian Scandal

Senator Mike Duffy incurred tens of thousands of dollars in dubious expenses while living in Ottawa even though the was ostensibly a P.E.I. senator. The government, wanting to avoid both public scandal — and a can of worms over senatorial residency requirements — agreed to cut Duffy a $30,000 cheque from the Conservative Party’s coffers to pay back the money to the taxpayer and to keep the senator from going squirrelly. When the true bill for $90,000 came in, the party balked. Stephen Harper’s billionaire chief of staff Nigel Wright gave Duffy the money from his personal bank account. Duffy was charged with bribery over the affair — although Wright has been apparently cleared of offering a bribe. Many questions remain about whether Stephen Harper knew about it.
Also, the Liberals’ co-chair resigned after it was revealed that he was offering basic civics advice about what happens during a government transition to his client, TransCanada.
While we’re here, let’s also throw in the NDP’s satellite office expenses scandal for good measure.
There, are you all happy now?
Debates about Debates
The so-called broadcast consortium lost the debates. Debates were hosted in English instead by Maclean’s, the Globe, and the Munk Debates. Much drama ensued; Harper wouldn’t agree to the broadcast consortium’s terms, Mulcair wouldn’t debate unless Harper did, and Trudeau wanted an equal number of English and French debates.
Now we all want an independent debate commission.
A Recession Recession
On Aug. 31, Statistics Canada released its second-quarter GDP result showing that Canada was in a mild technical recession for the first half of the year. But the economy was already starting to grow again by the time the economists were able to declare that we were, indeed, in a Recession Recession.
Not that it mattered one way or another anyway.
We’ve likely returned to growth, since. Although I dare not place an adjective in front of the word “growth” for fear of the backlash.
The brutal photograph of Alan Kurdi, face down on a beach, opened the hearts of most Canadians for a solid week or two. Most were mortified to discover that his kin had been trying to apply for refuge in Canada.
This was an opportunity for the Liberals or the NDP to re-frame the entire election around Canadian values and our place in the world. Or to note Canada’s growing insularity over the past two decades. For a few days, they tried; each promising to increase the country’s quota of refugees.
But then people started to note just how Muslim those Syrian refugees seemed. And that was the end of that.
The Niqab
In 2014, Zunera Ishaq went to court to challenge the federal government’s decision to ban the face-covering niqab during citizenship ceremonies. She had agreed to show her face for identification purposes, but declined to lift her veil for the public ceremony.
In the midst of the election campaign, a federal court ruled in her favour. The government attempted to stay the decision — which would have prevented Ishaq from saying her oath in time to vote — while promising to take the matter to the Supreme Court. In this, it also failed. Ishaq swore her citizenship oath and is expected to vote on Monday. Meanwhile, Harper has mused about the possibility of a niqab ban in the civil service, similar to Quebec’s odious Values Charter.
There is, of course, a legitimate debate to be waged on the niqab, on women’s rights, and on the limits of tolerance in a free and open society.
This, however, is not that debate. The niqab is not so substantive an issue of governance that it warranted weeks of attention during an election campaign. Only two women have been affected by the Conservatives’ niqab ban in the past four years. We have yet to find a single public servant who even wears a niqab.
This, and the “barbaric cultural practices” tip line, are simply cynical wedge politics. The Conservatives capitalized on fear of Muslims to gin a few votes. If you were under the impression that all this chatter was anything else, then you were played for a rube. Send your apologies to the NDP, c/o their dodgy Quebec offices.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership
To think this could have been an election on the merits of free trade! Or even supply management. The thought was almost tempting enough to welcome NDP fear-mongering on the perils of globalization. Bring on the tear gas, man! I miss the ’90s.
But then it wasn’t.
Meat and Potatoes
And at the end of 11 weeks of bluster and fury, what are we left with? The law-and-order Conservatives sharing a stage with the Ford family, pulling out the old props, complete with full sound effects. “How much will a Liberal government cost you, sir.” “$1,000?” Ka-Ching. “$2,000” Ka -Ching.
This government called the longest campaign in modern history, commanded all the country’s attentions, and then didn’t seem to know what to do it all but to stage this sad, camp little variety show. What’s left of the country’s principled conservatives watch on eyes wide and mouth agape as their folk hero leader debases himself for their benefit.
What was this election about? The Conservatives would have you believe it’s all for the disastrous economic consequences of an NDP/Liberal win. The progressives would tell you it’s about Stephen Harper.
I suspect it’s been about a whole lot of nothing.
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