Pubdate: Fri, 20 Jun 2014
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2014 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Page: A8


The Ontario Election Shows the Degree to Which Voters Have Written 
Off Politicians As a Class

With only days to go before a federal byelection in the Toronto 
riding formerly held by Liberal Jim Karygiannis, Conservatives have 
begun circulating a leaflet that portrays Justin Trudeau as a 
pot-happy drug dealer, eager to get kids hooked on drugs.

Well, it's kind of, sort of, half true: horrifically distorted, but 
based on the real Liberal proposal to decriminalize marijuana, which 
could open the way to a legal retail trade. Except the Liberal plan 
would include strict controls aimed at restricting sales, both to put 
criminals out of business and to protect kids from easily accessible dope.

The Liberals may cry foul at this sort of blatant, below-the-belt 
dishonesty, but wait a minute: Mr. Trudeau spent part of the past 
month campaigning with Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne, who won 
a surprising majority government a week ago, while deploying the same 
sort of manic fear-mongering.

Most notoriously, as voting day approached, a Liberal candidate 
circulated a leaflet picturing Progressive Conservative leader Tim 
Hudak as a crazed terrorist, cackling maniacally against the 
background of an exploding hospital. The scene was cribbed from The 
Dark Knight, with Mr. Hudak substituted for the Joker. Ms. Wynne 
quickly apologized, but not before extensive publicity fixed the 
image in the public mind.

Such antics are why it's best to take a deep breath before giving 
much credibility to the feigned outrage of political leaders who find 
themselves the target of attack ads. As in much of the world, 
Canadian politicians have been active participants in recent years in 
undermining their own credibility, to the point that voters hardly 
ever take them seriously. It's as if the political universe has been 
Twitterized, with complex issues and important debates reduced to a 
few cynical words that attack opponents' weaknesses in the most lurid 
and hyperbolic way possible.

As columnist Andrew Coyne noted on Wednesday, the federal 
Conservatives have engaged in so much "high-handed, overthe-top" 
rhetoric since coming to power eight years ago, that when they need 
public support for an important project such as the Northern Gateway 
pipeline, they find the public disinclined to take them seriously.

The Conservatives are not alone. The recent Ontario election 
demonstrated the degree to which voters have written off politicians 
as a class. Mr. Hudak ran a poor campaign, but with an accurate 
message: Ontario's fiscal situation is dire and serious efforts are 
needed to address it. Ms. Wynne offered no credible plan, and pledged 
to keep spending. She won because voters took to the grandmotherly 
image she perfected, while others in the party falsely denounced Mr. 
Hudak as an extremist.

Politicians and the public alike are to blame for this. Long before 
Mr. Harper appeared on the scene, Liberal governments specialized in 
reducing opponents to caricatures and running against the parody 
rather than the opponent. Mr. Harper's contribution has been to take 
this practice to new levels of cynicism via 24/7 campaigning that 
never ceases to seek out opposition weaknesses to distort and 
exploit, in the search for votes and campaign funding.

While Mr. Trudeau has vowed a different approach, it's been all talk 
and no action so far: His party's "position" on the Northern Gateway 
pipeline has been to depict the Tories in crude and cartoonish terms, 
as environment-despoiling barbarians happily trampling over the 
pristine countryside in search of new territory to ruin.

Many voters, sadly, lap it up. The tendency of social media has been 
to further reduce public issues to a form of "gotcha" entertainment, 
in which points are scored for short-term gains and a quick hit on 
YouTube at the expense of informed debate or any serious 
understanding of important issues.

Not until Canadians start making candidates pay for their dishonesty, 
is the situation likely to reverse. And they aren't likely to begin 
that process until they start educating themselves on issues beyond 
what they can learn in 140 characters or less.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom