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This election has been a relentlessly awful, gruelling slog, routinely derided as the "dirtiest" or "nastiest" in recent memory, and between the pundit class denouncing it as an election about nothing, and the collection of uninspiring leaders before us, it makes one wonder how we fix this mess that we've found ourselves in.  And no, not voting or spoiling your ballot isn't going to send the parties a message.  They won't actually care in the bigger picture, and in all likelihood, they'll just double down on the kinds of things they've done to make this election so awful.  So just what can we as Canadians do?

The first thing to remember is that the parties won't do anything to fix this situation out of the goodness of their hearts or some grand belief in democracy, in part because they have become a big part of the problem.  Now, before you think this is some kind of call to abolish political parties, you'd be wrong.  Parties are at the heart of our system and are tremendously important for the exercise of Responsible Government.  In fact, our system could not effectively work without parties because it would devolve into factions that would need to rely on buying the support of other MPs in order to cobble together enough votes to pass Supply, a budget, or confidence.  It would grind to a halt, and that's not a good thing.

Rather, the problem is that the parties are no longer acting in the way that parties are supposed to.  They have become hollowed out and are only now vehicles for the personality cult of the leader, whoever that leader may be (with the exception of the Conservatives they remain a personality cult of their former leader rather than the current one, the reason for which one can speculate endlessly).  It is no longer about building commonalities between ridings and regions, and creating a structure by which grassroots members can interact with the caucus in order to ensure that their concerns are heard.  What used to be a fairly bottom-up process for policy development and candidate selection is now a top-down machine in the service of the leader, where party constitutions have been re-written over and over so that the leader is now the ultimate decider of policy, nomination races, and everything that happens in the party.  All levels of accountability have largely been wiped away most especially in the Liberal fold.

Of course, we helped make this happen when we decided that it was somehow "more democratic" to choose those party leaders by membership votes rather than the caucus selecting from among their own, as was the traditional manner in the Westminster system.  It gave these leaders the false notion that they have some kind of "democratic legitimacy" that they use to bully their caucus members, and empower their staffers to do as well.  With the more power that they centralized and amassed, they started to more consciously ignore the policy resolutions that the grassroots membership would send them every other year, as we started to insist that leadership candidates run with a suite of policy planks as though this were an American presidential primary.  As leaders came in with policies of their own, the grassroots were further marginalized.

The focus on the leaders during the election cycle has become so overpowering that policy is a secondary consideration, and the all of the attention was simply on leaders tripping themselves up and trip themselves up they did.  Repeatedly.  But when your focus is on the leader, you start to live and die by your leader rather than the individual candidates, or the strength of the party brand for that matter.  And in order to bring down the rival leaders, the parties did a lot of personal attacks that they wrapped up in this faux-guise of "positivity" for their own message.  It was absolutely a mud-slinging match because the calculation was that they needed to take down the other leaders, and it became personal in that regard.

So the question remains how do we, as Canadians, fix this?  First of all, stop looking for messiahs.  Stop looking for another leader who will check all of the boxes and be your everything, because that will only perpetuate the same problems that we have right now.  Another messianic leader will only become one more target for the other leaders to try and take down, and the cycle will simply repeat itself.

Next, Canadians need to get re-engaged with the parties at the grassroots level, if they have any hope of trying to take back the power from the party leaders.  And that's going to be a lot of hard work, and a hell of a lot of organizing and agitating, but it's the only way we're going to see change.  You can be sure that the leaders won't want to give up that power now that they've slowly acquired and consolidated it, but giving our system the kick in the ass it needs to essentially reboot itself will mean that grassroots players will have to demand to reform their party's constitutions to take the power back from the centre, and consequently for the same grassroots to give up the power to vote for the leader and return it to caucus.  It may seem counter-intuitive if you want to re-empower the grassroots, you need to restore the tension between the grassroots party and the parliamentary party rather than the parliamentary party having consumed the grassroots as now exists.

It's not an easy task.  In fact, it's going to be exceedingly difficult, but if we want change the course that we're on, we need ordinary Canadians to step up and take charge.  Only if they reclaim their place at the heart of grassroots democracy can we hope to prevent another awful election like this one, and create a better Parliament in the process.  And that work has to start today.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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Now that the political campaigning is finally over, it's becoming more and more obvious as to how the media failed when it came to covering the 2019 Canadian election.

I'm talking, of course, about the total lack of click-baity "Top Ten Lists".

So to fill this void, I've created my own official list, which I'm calling the "Top Ten Ways the Election Surprised Us".

Here it is:

#10  RIP Sunny Ways Politics

The notion that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was going to act according to "sunny ways" principles, emphasizing hope over fear, selfies over cynicism and niceness over meanness, was always more of a media-generated fantasy than a political reality.  Yet, I don't think anyone expected that particular myth to explode as spectacularly as it did during this election.  Indeed, Trudeau ran a campaign so steeped in bitterness, it'd make Donald Trump cringe; essentially, he offered voters a stark and polarized choice, either you voted Liberal or you're a terrible Canadian.  Not saying it's a bad tactic, but suddenly Trudeau the "Care Bear" has sprouted six inch fangs.  Talk about a plot twist.

#9 Trudeau's Gift to the Comedy Industry

At the beginning of this campaign I doubt anyone predicted the big beneficiaries would be comedians all over the world.  Yet, Trudeau's blackface scandal, which erupted during this election, provided a bonanza of comedic material; Check this example from Conan O'Brien: "It's smart of Trudeau to hold the election before Halloween, I mean why even tempt yourself?"

#8 Conservative Bashing Corporation?

Canadian Conservatives went into the 2019 election believing the CBC was going to be subtlety biased against their party, but the public broadcaster totally surprised them it was blatantly biased against their party.   In an unprecedented move, right in the middle of the election campaign, the CBC decided to sue the Conservative Party for copyright infringement.  I'm betting from now on, the Conservative Party motto will be "CBC delenda est." (To get that joke you probably have to be a history major).

#7 Globalized Politics

In a world that's becoming increasingly interconnected, domestic politics is no longer simply a national concern.  Or so it seemed in our Canadian election.  As a matter of fact, in an unexpected development, foreigners took a decided interest in telling us how to vote.  For instance, we had a Swedish teenager come here to lecture us on the evils of climate change and, more importantly, former US President Barack Obama decided to publicly endorse his buddy Justin Trudeau.  But then again, Conservative Party Andrew Scheer was also endorsed by an American himself.

#6 Progressivism Redefined

Progressivism was up until now traditionally associated with left-wing ideals.  Yet, during this election Prime Minister Trudeau made a point of embracing the progressive mantle, a claim the mainstream media didn't question or challenge.  But if this is true, if Trudeau is now regarded as the champion of socialism, it means progressivism must now be an ideology that seeks to enrich, protect and otherwise coddle Quebec-based, super-rich, upper class, corporate elites.  I'm no expert, but I think that would surprise Karl Marx.

#5 Return of the Living Separatists

The surprising polling surge of the Bloc Quebecois in this election triggered an equally surprising surge of Quebec-pandering.  Trudeau, for example, tied his principles into knots over issues like Quebec's Bill 21.  He also stole a little nationalistic thunder, warning Quebecers that unless his government was re-elected, the evil Anglo provinces of Alberta and Ontario, along with their greedy and unscrupulous oil baron allies, would crisscross their province with a labyrinth of leaky pipelines.  Watch for this to be become a new trend in 2020 and beyond.

#4. Low Expectations

At the beginning of the race, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh's chances were rated somewhere between nil and non-existent, the only question being should his doomed campaign be metaphorically compared to the Titanic or to the Hindenburg?  But then his party started to inexplicably gain steam in the polls, meaning overnight in the media's eyes Singh went from "The Loser" to "The Guy Who Might Possibly be Cooler than even Justin Trudeau."

#3 Scheer Smearing

According to media reports, the Conservative Party possibly hired a consulting firm to allegedly wage a secret smear campaign against People's Party leader Maxime Bernier.  If true, this is indeed shocking, but only because the attacks were directed against Bernier, who posed no threat, and not against the person who was a real enemy Rosie Barton!

#2 Where's Putin?

This is kind of a stunner: At no point during this election, did the CBC or the Toronto Star or the Huffington Post run a story proclaiming that Andrew Scheer was a secret Russian asset.  (Though I'm sure that's coming.)

#1 Worst Election Ever

One common theme of this election was its alleged horribleness.  Columnists, pundits and journalists bewailed the election's ugly tone, its lack of policy discussion, its bland superficiality, etc.  So it's totally surprising that the Chinese Communist Party didn't use this election as an example to bolster its "Democracy, it aint so Great" campaign.

Anyway that's my list.  Do you agree with it?

I'm already working on my next list, "Top Ten Reasons Why Whichever Party Loses will Need a New Leader."

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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What have we learned from all of this?

More importantly, what has Prime Minister Justin Trudeau learned?

After the last five-and-a-half weeks of rough and tumble trash wrestling there are probably some things to take away.  But I fear whatever lessons there are here for the Liberal Party to learn will be cast aside.

They've beat expectations rather handily.  And while not a total victory, beating expectations has a funny affect on people.  Particularly people with a built in level of smug.  And so after pulling out a plurality of seats—at the time of this writing 157, to the Tories' 121 — Trudeau and the Liberals have frittered away a majority, but still pulled out a win.

It's quite the rebuke of a government handed power only four years ago.

At the same time, its a failure of an opposition unable to capitalize on a wounded Trudeau who left many wanting.  The ugliness of the campaign was pretty apparent.  The cynicism, even more so.

Justin Trudeau came to be prime minister on the back of not just a wave of optimism, but cresting atop the idea that government could be different.  But the first four years of his reign as prime minister proved that hope is an illusion, hard work will only break your spirit.

Trudeau's incantation of Wilfrid Laurier's "sunny ways" only put into sharp focus how truly cynical he was.  When he brought up Laurier this Monday night, Trudeau was no longer invoking sunny ways, instead he was invoking Laurier's commitment to "patriotism and the unifying power of common goals and aspirations."

No longer can he pull from the loftier goals of high rhetoric, instead he was forced to look to pragmatism with a rosy gloss.  He no longer holds an iron grip on Parliament, so he must intone for the need for co-operation.

His government, reduced to a minority, has a broader public to answer to.  No longer can the whims of the Prime Minister's Office be the sole directors of the nation's course.  Instead, the prime minister has to keep in mind the wishes of the other parties.

In theory, this means keeping the NDP and their 24 MPs happy enough not to blow the whole thing up.  In practice?  Who knows.

When his government had that unfettered reign, what did they do with it?  Those last four years were something of a waste.

I want to use one issue, one that at the time wasn't one that was particularly important to me, but all the same shows the problem: electoral reform.  Trudeau made a crystal clear promise, "We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using first-past-the-post."

Of course, it wasn't the last first-past-the-post election.  Monday's will probably not be the last first-past-the-post election.  Neither will the next one.  It was a promise that was tossed to the ditch, and left to die an ignoble death.

And the betrayal of that clear promise, with a clear mandate to follow through on it, has only bred more cynicism into the process, in a way that goes beyond just the typical "politicians always break their promises" refrain.

This is perhaps our own fault for believing him in the first place.  But what happens when the next guy comes around the corner, saying "No, I'm really a change from the usual, promise!"  Who believes that guy?

Maybe every generation has a grand disappointment.  Maybe Trudeau is that disappointment.  We should have known better — I should have known better.

When it came down to it this year, when the closing days of the campaign came around, the core cynicism of Trudeau was made clear.  The pitch was not even to "Choose Forward" — an awful, empty slogan they'd made their core pitch — but to vote good enough.  To vote not-Conservative, by which they meant Liberal.  Because, gosh, otherwise you might get a Tory government.

In the end, that was enough to hang on.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer proved himself on a number of occasions to be unserious, at times loose with the truth, and generally a bit too enamoured with his own base.  I've knocked on this point a few times, but one of Scheer's biggest problems was assuming people loathed Trudeau and the Liberals as much as he did.

They didn't.

Where a few days ago Scheer was making grave proclamations that the party who won the most seats should get the first chance to sit in the big boy chair, today he was forced to talk about how great it was to shave a few seats off the Liberals, and cut them down to a minority.  Decisive victory, this was not.

So now we are left with the wretched detritus of a wretched campaign.  It's unlikely any of this falls apart for some time, so this is what we've got.

It will be interesting to see how Trudeau governs after limiting his rhetorical ambition through the campaign, but at the same time kept in place by parties to his left.  It might turn into a situation that eliminates the sort of grim complacent and flippant attitude his government took with their first kick at the can.

But there is no sense getting your hopes too high.  I'm reminded of a common refrain in the books of Stephen King: Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which fills up first.

Me, I've stopped wishing.

Photo Credit: Times Colonist

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.