The dilemma many have faced in past elections is whether to vote for a political party or to choose the best candidate at the local level. And, in the past, it seemed easier to make this sort of choice. Once upon a time, choosing the “best” candidate could yield tangible benefits at the local level. MPs and MPPs would support the party line, yet still remain independent thinkers and still be focused on their particular communities.
“Voters are, apparently, expected to make their choices based on the overall party platform and the party leader, period.”
This is no longer the case, though. At least, that’s how I see it.
Partisan politics so dominate today’s political scene that independent thinking on the part of candidates is almost—though not entirely—unheard of. Independent thinking is likely to earn an MP/MPP a reputation for being a loose cannon and can lead to banishment to the back benches of the legislature. Staying on message is the winning formula these days.
Take a look, for example, at the websites of Burlington PC candidate Jane McKenna, here, the that of Ted Chudleigh, the Halton PC candidate, here. As you will see, the websites are virtually identical, save for the names of the candidates and their ridings. Beyond that, these pages are all about PC party leader Tim Hudak. Even following the “News & Events” links on the home pages yields little or nothing specific to the candidates or the communities they represent.
Local representatives have become placeholders, or “pylons” as we called them to refer to certain Quebec NDP candidates in the May 2 federal election. Voters are, apparently, expected to make their choices based on the overall party platform and the party leader, period.
There isn’t even a feeble attempt to relate planks in the party platform to issues that relate specifically to the local riding.
Astonishingly, for example, Jane McKenna’s website has no mention that I can find of the two all-candidate meetings—so called debates—to be held in town this week. (One of the local events mentioned is the “Election Campaign Office Opening” on Aug. 26! The other is a past “Ribfest” event held around the same time.) I know one of the meetings, the Chamber of Commerce Event on Sep. 27, will not allow “walk ins”, but the Canadian Federation of University Woman event on the 29th is open to the public. (Not sure what candidates’ events are being held in Halton riding, but I bet there’s something planned.)
With virtually nothing “local” to go by on the websites, and with candidates sticking like gum to campaign talking points at their public appearances, how might one decide who’s the better candidate for the riding? So we’re stuck. We either cast our votes based on party ideology or based on which leader we like the most—lots of information available on what the leaders have to say, too much, in fact.
Given the current state of affairs, those local candidates who prevail on Oct. 6 will go to Queen’s Park and be faced with the choice of toeing the party line or disappearing from sight as a perennial back-bencher. They’ll, I’m sure, run effective constituent offices and we’ll see her/him round and about in the town from time to time, but few will every be offered the opportunity to advocate openly for her/his community unless, of course, that community’s interests align with the political party’s policies.
And that’s just too damn bad.