The long election road ahead

The editor realizes you can run, but you can't hide from election ads, even on YouTube

Barbara Roden

Black Press


Many Canadians, in an attempt to differentiate themselves from Americans, like to find something that we do better here—or at least think we do better—and then proclaim how superior it is to the American system. A case in point is federal elections, where Canucks like to point to our fixed election campaign term: no less than 36 days, and usually not much more, between dropping the writ and the day that voters decide who gets to redecorate the Prime Minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive.

So it was rather amusing to note the muffled screams from Canadians when the Prime Minister tore up the rule book and announced an election campaign that was going to last for 11 whole weeks; the longest Canadian election campaign in modern times. Our friends to the south dream of an election campaign that only lasts for 11 weeks, since the American election process seems to start within 48 hours of a new President being sworn in, and is more or less constant after that. The national conventions in the States, where the Republican and Democrat candidates for President will be elected, are almost a full year away, but as of the time of writing there are already 17 people who have declared as Republican nominees (18, if you consider whatever lives on Donald Trump’s head to be a sentient creature whispering instructions to him, which would actually explain a lot). These people have been all over the airwaves for what seems like decades, and it will only get worse over the next 12 months.

The truth is, of course, that the three main political parties here in Canada have been in election mode for some time. The Conservatives have been reminding us for months now about all the great things they’ve done, or have planned for the future, if we’ll only give them another chance. Hey, did you know it’s Canada’s 150th anniversary in two years? If not, then you probably haven’t watched any TV, listened to the radio, or read a newspaper since last year, as the Conservatives have been reminding us of this patriotic fact since roughly forever. And ever since the spring, when the election went from “some day” to “coming soon”, it’s been impossible to turn on the TV without seeing ads in which one party is attacking another. About the only person who’s emerged unscathed is Green Party leader Elizabeth May, largely (I suspect) because the other parties know there’s little point spending money to attack a party that has no hope of forming the next government.

All this frenzied scaremongering will only get worse as the main parties continue to slug it out on the airwaves in the run-up to Oct. 19. All the political parties swear they won’t stoop to attack ads, but you can’t turn on the TV without seeing the Conservatives attacking the Liberals (is it just me, or is the Tories’ preoccupation with Justin Trudeau’s hair a little weird?), the Liberals attacking the Conservatives, and the NDP trying to decide who best to attack, because they might need to form a coalition with one of the other parties, and that’s hard to do when you’ve spent weeks slagging them off to the electorate. And these messages are almost impossible to avoid, no matter how hard you try. If you have a Canadian IP address you can’t even watch a YouTube video without running the risk of being forced to sit through a message from one of the main parties first. Things are getting out of hand when, months before the election, even cat videos are not beyond the reach of political advertising. Is nothing sacred anymore?

I imagine things are just as frantic behind the scenes. The Prime Minister’s team is trying to teach him to smile in a way that seems authentic, rather than like an unfortunate facial tic. Justin Trudeau’s people are attempting to make him look more like a statesman and less like a high school Student Council president who’s wandered into the staff room by mistake. At Stornoway, the residence of the Leader of the Opposition, focus groups are trying to determine the answer to “The Beard: Yes or No?” while Thomas Mulcair waits impatiently, razor in hand. And at Green Party headquarters, Elizabeth May and her crew are probably hoping one of the other parties will aim an attack ad her way, just so she won’t feel left out.

The only group of people that has it worse right now are polling companies. These firms don’t have a stellar track record of late, having spectacularly failed to predict the results in the last two Alberta elections, the last B.C. election, and the recent election in Britain. Having confidently predicted outcomes that failed to happen, in rather stunning fashion in all cases, they’re trying to figure out what went wrong  even as they tell us that such-and-such a party is now ahead in the polls. Do you want an accurate prediction of who’s going to win come October? Flip a coin; you have just as much chance of being right as the pollsters do, but at least you’ll have something tangible to show for it.

So we’re in for a long haul, between now and Oct. 19, assailed on all sides by political ads, pollsters’ (supposed) findings, and pundits trying to explain it all. Good luck trying to avoid it, because if YouTube is anything to go by, they’ll find you, no matter hard you try.

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