Sarah: In a way, most federal elections are kind of deja vu. Every four years, you see red, blue, orange lawn signs pop up all around your neighbourhood. Attack ads eat up all the commercial spaces you try to watch TV.
News Clip: Justin Trudeau, he’s just not ready.
Sarah: Maybe you tune into the televised debate, but probably not. Then on E day you do your civic duty and head to a local school jammer community centre, stand behind that cardboard thinger, check a box or perhaps you have to work late and never quite make it. Well folks, this October will be every four years again. Are you ready to even care? The 2015 Election had a 68.3% voter turnout, the highest since 1993, still not amazing. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his liberals pulled off a stunner of a comeback then, leaping from third place to majority rule. But who’s gonna bring that magic now that those sunny ways have been eclipsed by the letters SNC and neither conservative leader Andrew Sheer nor the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh have proven they’re up to the job.
Sarah: I’m Sarah Boesveld in for Jordan Heath Rawlings. This is The Big Story. Justin Ling is a freelance journalist and host of the podcast Oppo on CanadaLand. Back in the spring he wrote an article for Vice about why he thinks this slate of potential prime ministers is deeply underwhelming. Thanks for coming on, Justin.
Justin: Thanks for having me.
Sarah: So I get the sense that you’re not really too jazzed about any of the leaders from the major parties anyway, going into this election, tell me what’s going through your mind heading into October?
Justin: Well, you know, I think what’s in my mind is that none of them impressed me, and my opinion seems to be shared by roughly the majority of the country who don’t like any of the three major party leaders. Neither of the three have actually set out any kind of thoughtful, actually meaningful platform for what they plan to do if they were ever to take control of the country, and generally they’ve reverted back to the worst kind of meaningless platitudes and sort of partisan jabs that are becoming increasingly common over the last decade or so. So, you know, my point of view is that I want to like them, I like the idea of actually being fond of all of the leaders of the party so that I’m not, you know, unhappy if any one of them takes over, but currently, that’s not how I feel. I mean, going back a few years like I think even people didn’t fully glom on to Stephanie Dion or Michael Ignattief. They generally liked them, it was not; They did not have this; I think this antipathy that we currently have for leaders, but you know, unfortunately, the actual daylight between a lot of what they’re pledging is relatively minor but the amount of vitriol and sort of anger that they’re trying to whip up is pretty noticeable, and that really bums me out.
Sarah: Yeah. So why don’t you set the table for us about that vitriol, and that polarization and the nastiness? You know, in this piece that you wrote for Vice, you kind of alluded to a feeling of deja vu. You know, you felt this way before the 2015 election, and you just now said maybe it’s been going on for a little longer than that, this sort of feeling of being disillusioned by what’s on offer. You know why is that feeling in the air and why are you feeling it?
Justin: Right. So it is funny, I did get a serious case of deja vu before the 2015 election, but in the end, in 2015 I was sort of proven wrong. You know, looking at Thomas Mulcair versus Stephen Harper there was two leaders who again, were not promising significantly different platforms but found these wedge issues, and these individual points of contention that were supposed to sort of drive voters to the polls or drive opposition supporters away. You know, Stephen Harper was promising to bend the knee cab for federal public service, we always forget this, but that was part of his election platform that was absolutely disgusting. Meanwhile, Thomas Mulcair basically read a platform of saying we need to get rid of Stephen Harper, number one priority is Stephen Harper, and everything else is sort of relevant. It was just a nasty, unpleasant campaign until I mean, like him or hate him, or really like him or don’t like his policies, Justin Trudeau came out with basically a pretty aggressive platform with some pretty big ideas that were novel, and that were new and that actually talked to voters like they were adults instead of trying to treat them like variables on, you know, a polling chart that needed to be managed.
Sarah: God forbid you treat human voters like human beings.
Justin: But I’m worried that that’s not gonna happen this time.
Sarah: Why not?
Justin: Um, because it doesn’t seem cool having; Justin Trudeau is still running and seemed to have forgotten what he was running on four years ago or has been broken by the political system, I don’t know. Meanwhile, Jugmeet Singh seems like he wants to be that guy, but has been completely incapable of actually playing that role in the adequate way. Meanwhile, Andrew Sheer keeps claiming that he’s Stephen Harper with a smile but I’m not even convinced about the smile anymore. You know.
Sarah: He’s too busy telling everyone to resign. Right after SNC, it was like he must step down.
Justin: The thing I was going to say about the NDP under Thomas Mulcair, if you ask everybody to resign, nobody’s going to. So, you know, I think Canadians are rightfully; me personally having covered politics are tired of politics as the way it’s being played over the last several years, it no longer feels like we’re addressing serious issues, it feels like we are, um, you know, game pieces on a war room chessboard, and that’s really frustrating, and I think you know it’s gonna take somebody coming out here and actually providing some real concrete solutions to the issues we face. Now I’ll give you an example, you know the vast majority of the country is stuck in the middle of a housing affordability crisis, and this is an issue, you know, this is; For one of the first times in generations we’re starting to see health care being replaced as the number one issue in polling data of issues of concern for Canadians, it’s being replaced by climate change and housing affordability. Now on housing affordability, you can’t tell me that any of these parties have a serious, thoughtful, aggressive plan to address this issue. Andrew Sheer barely talks about it, Justin Trudeau keeps claiming that his plan transformational, the departmental budget officer basically just said that his plan has done nothing significant if anything it may have actually decreased funding from the Harper years for points of serious lack of supply for affordable housing.
Sarah: Which is not good for the young voter that Justin Trudeau is very interested in reaching as he did, you know in 2015.
Justin: And Jugmeet Singh just released a set of priorities in June where he basically tried to set himself up as being the champion of affordable housing. Even his plan is meek, it’s a big chunk of change over about 10 years, most of it coming in five, did some start up funding, but most of it is for private developers just try to start building affordable housing, and we’ve generally seen that has been tried, and it just never brought online the number of units that’s actually necessary, and I’m frankly, it’s woefully insufficient of the problem we’re facing. And even he’s not talking about it that often. He’s getting drawn into these sort of irrelevant sideshow fights. Climate change being the other thing, you know, Andrew Sheer is treating voters like chumps by saying that he’s gonna have a plan that’s gonna do more than a carbon pricing strategy, which is not in line with any evidence, any research or any facts that we have available to us. He’s lying to us, and he’s treating us like idiots, and I find that very frustrating. Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau’s entire climate pricing plan is being presented as a panacea that’s going to fix everything, and that we don’t need to do any more. It’s either that or nothing.
Sarah: Justin Trudeau being everything to everyone, which isn’t real; I mean certainly, and I’ve covered, you know, feminism and Justin Trudeau’s, you know, government and that’s been that kind of, you know, bit him in the butt with the SNC stuff too right?
Justin: Absolutely. And again, Jugmeet Singh is a slightly more expanded version of Justin Trudeau, but again, not substantially addressing the issues head on that Canadians are saying is their number one issue.
Sarah: Well and I think the concern with Jugmeet Singh too is his visibility as well, like he’s not really been able to capture headlines or reach people with his message yet, anyway, I mean, there’s still enough time potentially right, like Justin Trudeau came up from behind out of seemingly nowhere.
Justin: But you know, I’m not seeing the sort of ambition that was behind Justin Trudeau. I mean, the reality is Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party had started sort of percolating and strategizing those big things, you know well before he shot to the top of the polls. I’m not seeing that ambition from Jugmeet Singh, Jugmeet Singh seems, and the NDP seeme to think that if they just do what they did last time, they’ll work magically. If they position themselves as a slightly more progressive Justin Trudeau than everyone will just come around to them and they’ll vault the victory. I don’t think it’s gonna happen, and I’m talking about the issues that tend to matter more for center left voters. But even if you’re on the center right, I think you have to be frustrated. I mean, even Andrew Sheer initially came out and started thumping and saying he’s going to balance the budget immediately, totally backed off that position, he’s no longer even kind of pledging to balance the budget any sooner than the prime minister, so even again, climate. Climate should be a very good conservative issue and you know, Stephen Harper, in the middle of his mandate, basically said this. He basically said we’re gonna incur long term costs or have them sort of hoisted on us by the international community or face them by having to pay for climate adaptation strategies if we don’t address this now. So the conservative, responsible, long term thing to do is to price carbon and use the revenue to actually help with, you know, mitigation strategies, to help with reducing C02 in other countries to help, you know, actually get us into a green economy and help invest in companies that can do really well in the green economy. I don’t know where that conservative party has gone, but it seems to have disappeared.
Sarah: So tell me about leadership and what Canadians are maybe looking for in a leader at this point in time in 2019 it sounds like, you know, you’re pointing to hey, just show us some concrete solutions and some real ideas that will actually make our lives better on the ground. But it sort of reminds me of, you know, well the Obama years, too, it’s like hope and change, and I think the Trudeau government did play into that, they actually used some advisers from that time, and I wonder how… like is that an old idea now? Can people see through that in terms of not doing politics as usual that has now become politics as usual in some ways, you know.
Justin: Ya, that’s true. But we always seem to forget about the Obama years, especially the early Obama years, is that we kind of write him off as being hoping and changing all this, but he actually spoke really forcefully on specific issues, and he got up there and started thumping away on the Iraq War and said America needs to end its involvement in foreign entanglements. He spoke very forcefully at financial reform after the 2008 crisis, he spoke very pointedly on health care. Of course, he pledged some form of single payer health care on the campaign trail that obviously, of course, didn’t quite come to fruition.
Sarah: But in terms of like, I guess I mean like, people don’t remember that, like what they remember when they go to the ballot boxes like that guy made me feel something, you know?
Justin: But I think it’s a combination of both. I think, you know, if you see a leader getting up there and delivering platitudes with nothing behind it, you do get frustrated, you do kind of get the feeling that they’re not actually speaking to you, they’re speaking sort of above you or about you, right? So, you know, I think personal sort of style means a lot, but I think it has to be coupled with actual sort of solutions about real world problems. Of course, that is the exact point of politics, isn’t it? You know, it’s not that……
Sarah: It’s why you’re there right?
Justin: It’s not a popularity contest to figure who can connect with voters the most and go and buy a beer with them, it’s about who can actually deliver solutions and strategies and who do you trust actually enact them? And, you know, it seems the professionalization of politics has completely kind of removed that core, but you see people breaking through it all the time. Bernie Sanders is a prime example, he actually speaks, you know, without much veneer, he speaks very forcefully and pointedly on specific issues.
Sarah: Donald Trump doesn’t speak with veneer either.
Justin: Well that’s part of the reason why Donald Trump did so well, he actually spoke to people like they’re people. We might not like what he said, we might not like the policies he’s implementing, but he spoke very specifically on real issues, he spoke directly to people, you know, Hillary Clinton got on stage and told everyone to Pokemon Go to the polls and they felt like they were being played, and I don’t blame them.
Sarah: There’s a cynicism, right? You know, there’s like; People feel used all over the place these days, right?
Justin: Which is why I get really tired when politicians get up on stage and say, oh, we need to fight cynicism in politics and make sure people go to the polls. Well why would they? None of you have convinced me that there’ll be any significant change for the better if I elect you. All your convincing me of is that they’ll be significant change for the worst if I elect your opponent. And I realize this is not a new phenomenon, but it’s gotten much worse, you know? And I think the online polarization of politics has made this a whole bunch worse.
Sarah: Ya I wonder what makes it worse today.
Justin: It’s not just the Internet. I think it’s again the professionalization of politics.
Sarah: What do you mean by that?
Justin: Well, uh, the professionalization of politics, you know, it’s become a multi million, multi billion dollar industry of, you know, we don’t even…
Sarah: Lobbyists and things like that?
Justin: Nothing about lobbyists; the vendors, the strategist, the pollsters, the advertising gurus, they all kind of play this conventional wisdom of how things are supposed to sound and look and how you’re supposed to talk to people. On the flipside, online we’ve seen, you know, the actual messaging being taken away from the parties and being given over to small sort of special interest groups or individuals or activist extremists.
Sarah: You know, in the summer now and it’s been going on for about a month or so, like, you see, if you’re watching like, a baseball game or something, you’ll see they look like attack ads, and they are but they’re not party attack ads like, because of some of the rules that they enacted right? They brought these interest groups that are aligned with certain parties are able to do this advertising before parties actually get at it.
Justin: And at the very least, those organizations you know, Ontario Proud, North 99, both groups in left and the right have to disclose their donors, and their spending for the most part, within the pre rite period and the rite period, there’s a lot of people online who are activists or who are just angry people who set up Facebook page after Facebook Page after Facebook page to push you know very, extremist points of view and that’s fine, to somebody that’s free speech but it’s not helping, it’s making things significantly worse. You know I have a Facebook page where I only follow very; these very usually far right Facebook groups and it’s terrifying to watch tens of thousands of people get drawn into this very angry, very bitter, very extreme world in a bubble that draws you into thinking the prime minister should be tried for treason.
Sarah: But they’re making people feel something, right? They’re pulling people towards an emotion, you know that’s going to take them to the ballot box, which is maybe something it sounds like the leaders need to be tapping into in a way that is more meaningful and positive and productive, right?
Justin: Yeah if you actually give people something constructive to believe in and to care about, and that goes a long way, you know, and I think there’s this party there and leaders around the world that have done this in different ways. You look at Syria’s and Greece far left party that actually sort of tried to corral people from all across the spectrum into, you know, kind of a national unity project around kind of restructuring the Greek economy and the Greek social state, and you can say what you will about his what, eight years in power? But the end things look pretty good in Greece, and the rise of foreign extremism seemed to have kind of sort of stopped.
Sarah: And so what was the key to that success? It was like, rallying around the economy and…
Justin: He was speaking to people like adults. Again I keep going back to…
Sarah: God forbid.
Justin: I know, it sounds like a really simple solution, but actually talking to people like they’re people as opposed to being, sort of, you know, subset of the demographic that you need to win over, you know, like everything feels very, very micro targeted, and I think that’s very unfortunate. Now, you know, I don’t think everyone is as guilty of this as the other but Elizabeth May is actually a good example of somebody who hasn’t totally followed in this trap, who still does talk to people like they’re people.
Sarah: Ya I was just gonna raise her as an example of somebody who maybe speaks more freely, certainly than the other leaders do, sometimes at her peril. But tell me about whether there is some advantage to her going into October’s election given that their has been some success for the Green Party on the provincial level and the past number of months.
Justin: And I think the Green Party has been successful because they’ve been running people who are not usually involved in the political game, they’ve been running people who are dentists and ecologists and biologists, people who don’t, you know, who have been outside the political game for a long time, and if you’re looking at it and going, this isn’t working for me and coming out and talking to people and saying, listen, if you believe the climate crisis is a top of mind issue, okay, well here’s what we have to do to address it, and yeah, it might mean higher taxes, and it might mean higher cost of gas at the pump and that we’ll figure a way to mitigate that, but that’s what it’s gonna cost you. There is something very refreshing about that, you know, whereas Andrew Sheer is out there telling you that you can have your cake and eat it, too, and also the climate will fix itself, and gas will be cheaper.
Sarah: And I’m just like you.
Justin: Yeah, I’m sorry, you’re lying to me. Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau will tell you we only do this one tiny thing, and then everything will be fine.
Sarah: What’s the one tiny thing? Vote for me?
Justin: Well, yeah, that, and if only we have the carbon pricing scheme, the thing that I’ve done, everything will be fine. If you don’t vote for me, we’re gonna lose it, and your house will be on fire, and so, you know, I think that’s unfortunate. It is sort of; It is deceiving the public into a very simple binary solution, and it’s not, there are complex solutions to complex problems.
Sarah: Well I thought cause people also want to vote for something, not necessarily against something, which really is what it kind of felt like in 2015, there is a lot of you know, Stephen Harper had his two terms and he was running the kind of campaign that he ran, and so there are a lot of people who are like, no thanks, don’t want this.
Justin: They decided to vote for the third place party that was discounted as an option, because again he came, you know, Justin Trudeau came out and I think whatever you think of his rhetorical style and least spoke to people like, you know, they were thoughtful, rational beings instead of sort of like mindless automatons who sort of oscillate between parties based on who they’re most tired of, and what the polling tells you. Now, I don’t think Elizabeth May is necessarily going to do the same thing that Trudeau did. I mean, I could be wrong, you know, and she’s also, you know, has you know her rough edges as well, and she’s made some mistakes, she’s decided to bring on strategist Warren Kinsella as an advisor of some kind, and he’s been…
Sarah: Why is that a mistake?
Justin: Well, I mean, he bills himself as the Dark Lord, which I think is wild overselling of his own capabilities, but, you know, he’s a long time sort of hanger on of, you know, liberal campaigns that I think is very vested in that old style of rock em sock em.
Sarah: So you’re suggesting that maybe she’s bringing; She’s kind of buying into this professional.
Justin: It’s 100% politics, but I think we’ll see what her campaign looks like, but it’s absolutely possible. I mean, we’ll see how things go, and there’s still a lot of room for one of these leaders to sort of slap themselves into reality and start talking like they’re actual, real people trying to do better for the country as opposed to somebody playing a game. I haven’t seen that yet, but it’s still possible.
Sarah: Well, and so I was gonna ask you sort of what; So what needs to change then, between now, the summer, and October in terms of how these parties reach people and get out the vote? We had a 68% voter turnout last federal election.
Justin: We’re not going to see that this time.
Sarah: No. Right? And that was the highest since 1993, so what needs to bring people to the polls feeling like, yes I want a vote for something in this election.
Justin: Everyone needs to do everything differently.
Sarah: Everyone, everything differently.
Justin: No, I mean, I’m not so confident in voting. I think voter turnout will be significantly depressed, I don’t think we’re gonna see a clear victor in this election. I think…
Sarah: Is that typical for, like, elections where I think there’s an incumbent leader? Party?
Justin: Not necessarily. I mean, especially, you know, an election after you had a majority government of a leader that has done kind of this polling towards the end of this mandate in terms of polling data, there is kind of no precedent for this, this doesn’t tend to happen. You know, I think to some degree, the second mandate is, you know, the second election after the first big mandate is going to be less of an exciting affair but this is; we’re in pretty uncharted territory, we’re seeing kind of the rise of one term governments in Canada, which we haven’t generally had. But, you know, there is a tumble in the electorate right now, and you could see this worldwide, that is sort of hard to predict. You know, it’s very possible that Jugmeet Singh will rump to a big majority victory, or Elizabeth May will take 40 seats, we don’t know. I mean, no one would have anticipated that a comedian leading a sort of nonpartisan collection of wing nuts and weirdos in Italy would would end up forming government with a far right anti immigration party, but that’s exactly what happened.
Sarah: Or even Donald Trump was seen as a long shot, it was a joke for a long time.
Justin: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you know, comedians and sort of, you know, anti establishment figures have done very well everywhere. I mean we don’t know if Maxime Bernier is gonna pick up, you know 20 seats.
Sarah: Oh yeah, Mad Max. Don’t count him out.
Justin: I think it’s pretty unlikely, but, I mean, it’s hard to say one thing conclusively cause what we can see from polling and what you can tell from just talking to people is that people aren’t happy with their choices, they’re not happy with the prime minister that promised big and under delivered, they’re not happy with an opposition leader who seems to be willing to sort of throw truth and facts to the fire if it means I’m getting elected. They’re not happy with an NDP leader who seems incapable of kind of getting through the noise and actually you know conveying a vision for the country that they’re actually believing in, and they’re not quite sold on Elizabeth May, you know who’s never done better than one seat in an election before. So, um, and certainly not happy with Mad Max, who is playing footsie with white supremacist. So I think people are looking at the field and saying, I don’t know where to go with this. I think they probably park their vote with somebody in sort of an unhappy way and hope that next time around is a better option. Now that better option might be of a new leader of one of the parties or maybe a new party altogether. You know, it’s hard to say where the electorate will go, but I think you know, if you are telling people you’re very committed to what’s gonna happen you’re probably wrong.
Sarah: So maybe you want to answer this question as a political journalist, but who are you gonna vote for?
Justin: Well I tend to go for my local MP. That’s how I avoid…
Sarah: That’s a good way, that’s a good tip for people, though, like get engaged with your local races and see who you like.
Justin: That’s generally how we do it. I mean, I can tell you that not this time around but in previous elections, I’ve had a party that I won’t vote for based on the record, but generally look at who the local candidate is, and who I like, and you know who’s actually a viable option and that’s who I’ll vote for. Over the years I’ve voted for four different parties on the national and provincial level, maybe five, I can’t remember at this point. So I voted for most of them, so you know, I’m by no means a partisan, I consider all parties, and I think that might be a solution for a lot of folks who are out there and sort of dissatisfied by the leaders because you know, the way you make a leadership better is by putting together a better team for that for that party and, you know, there’s a lot of good candidates out there who I think could change things and this individual MPs who I think are more willing to stand on their hind legs and sort of push back against the party orthodoxy. Nathaniel Erskine Smith in the Liberal Party, Svend Robinson in the NDP who’s running for the first time in many years, and several conservative Michael Chong, even Aaron O’Toole, on some issues, they’re willing to stand up and say, uh, leader, this is what I think, and this is how I feel about the issue. I like and appreciate that.
Sarah: Ya, so you can look for what makes you excited about that local representative you have cause at the end of the day, they’re the ones who are standing up for you in Ottawa, so make sure you do vote, right?
Justin: Probably should, we really don’t want to. I’m in the shaming of people who don’t vote, given the options in front of them, and I don’t like picking the lesser of however many evils. I actually like voting for something.
Sarah: There you go. Thanks for coming on, Dustin.
Sarah: Justin Ling is a freelance journalist and host of the podcast OPPO on Canadaland. That was The Big Story. For more, visit us at thebigstorypodcast.ca, or on Twitter @thebigstoryfpn. Find us on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and be sure there to leave us a rating and a review. Thanks for listening, I’m Sarah Boesveld, catch up again tomorrow.
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