When I was twelve years old my family took a trip to re-discover our ancestral roots in China. We gawked at landmarks, peered into our history, tasted a little slice of life in the second world. But the thing that stuck with me the most wasn't the Great Wall or the Terracotta Warriors. It was the zoo. We stopped at the zoo one day on a whim; we had innocently figured that it would be a fun diversion from temples and Buddhas. We were terribly, terribly wrong. Oh, it looked like a zoo, to be sure. It had animals and habitats, it had foliage, it had a gift shop. But the resemblance was only skin deep. At the bear pit, you could buy fishing poles with apples on them. The zookeepers would encourage you to taunt the bears with them, delighting as they strained to reach the apples and roared in frustration. In the "theatre", tigers wearing fezzes did tricks on unicycles and lions danced in little costumes. And the main attraction, a "fight" between tigers and an ox, involved an ox being tied down and mauled by four tigers while dozens of people cheered them on. Cruelty and sadness soaked the air. It was disturbing on more levels than one.
This is an actual image from a Chinese zoo.
Here we are in September with just over a month until a federal election decides the government of our country, and it feels like we arrived here by accident. This election has been almost comically low-profile; it's overshadowed in almost every single respect by the ever-so-dramatic American election facing our neighbors to the south. Their politicians loom larger than life, they speak with confidence and their words ignite passions like lightning storms on a dry prairie. Meanwhile, our politicians strain to make each other look foolish, unaware that they are all swirling down the same drain. People (even Canadian people)care
about what Barack Obama has to say, but when was the last time that Jack Layton said something that made you leap out of your seat and shriek "yes!". Hell, when was the last time you hated a politician enough to do more than mutter a few choice words and go back to your Sudoku?
This isn't our fault, though. The average citizen is not to blame for the tediousness of their leaders. If anything, the tactics of the election are responsible for that feeling of weariness you get when you hear the phrase "Canadian Politics". First, the coverage is terrible. Look at the CBC, which feels compelled to write a 50-word article on every single thing any candidate half-assedly blurts out. This article
is a perfect example of something that should have never, ever been written. Sadly, the signal-to-noise ratio - the difference between the amount of actual policy and promises that are reported versus mundane crap - is very, very unequal. This brings me to my second complaint. The candidates on the campaign trail have been doing three things: making promises, putting words in their opponents' mouths, and engaging in kindergarten-level slander. Only one of these things is worth a second of the Canadian public's time. We need to hear what the candidates will do if elected; we couldn't care less about limp rejoinders and impotent insults. Harper is the most guilty of this, though certainly no one is innocent. He has already flatly lied about what Dion's policy is, and has created a slander website that contains virtually no political information. At the Conservative party website
you can see both tactics proudly displayed on the front page. Harper claims that Dion will cut the popular $1200-per-year child care subsidy, but Dion's actual policy is to double
the child-care subsidy.1
The Dion slander website is a further embarrassment, the only content really worth mentioning are a series of uninteresting and non-clever minigames. It doesn't really tell us anything about Dion, it just invites us to make a fool out of him over and over. "You don't need to think," the website says, sneeringly, "just look at how silly he is! Look at him shrugging! Don't you just hate
This is an actual image from a Canadian election.
An election campaign should be better than this. It should be better than Harper's blatant falsehoods, Dion's blandness and vagueness, Layton's vain hostility as he attempts to differentiate his party in the crowded left. It should be better than May's complaints, and it should know better than to let Gilles Duceppe participate. We come to an election hoping for change, for revitalization, for passion and inspiration. And what do we find? Tortured bears in pits doing tricks for dollars, tired tigers on bicycles, and tied-down oxen being savaged while the people cheer mindlessly. A federal election has all the trappings of something that could inspire us to believe in Canada. Instead, we feel disgusted, weary, and offended. And eventually, we just don't care anymore.