Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2015/ Federal Election Eve

Federal Election Eve

As I write this, it is the Sunday before the election. I do not know whether I will publish this before Monday (and given that I am trying to hold a nonpartisan talk it is a bad idea), and I need to spend this time working on my talk instead of repeating the same talking points I bleat every election, but you and I both know that I don't have that kind of self control. So here goes.

When this cursed election began 11 weeks ago I worried that I would not be able to make it through, and that the election would make me crazy. Sure enough, I am a wreck. I compulsively go to Twitter even though it makes me crazy. I idiotically decided to pitch this talk, and it has gone down in flames.

The sad thing is that I feel less engaged by this election than I have in a long time. Federal elections get the most media coverage, and they have the highest turnout, but honestly municipal and provincial politics affects my life more directly. Also I am so jaded and cynical that I have pretty much ignored all the election promises coming out of these people's mouths. They repeat talking points endlessly, and I do not believe these talking points because most of them are based on cherry-picked data, and I have no good mechanisms for determining what to believe. Somehow, my trust in politics has diminished yet further.

Somewhat foolishly, I have already voted in the advance poll. I was concerned that my housing situation would make the voting process more convoluted than usual, and I did not want to hold up the lines on the 19th. Maybe voting in advance was the right thing to do, because I know I do not have to make a decision tomorrow. I doubt I will reveal my choice in this entry, but I am guessing it will be obvious given what I write.

Local Candidates

I did not attend that many all-candidates meetings, and I did not follow the candidates in all five ridings very closely.

Local all-candidates meetings made me angry because the only ones I could trust the Conservatives to attend would be the Chamber of Commerce ones, which would only invite candidates from major parties, which would not allow audience questions, and which would frame issues in ways favourable to the Chamber of Commerce (and, unsurprisingly, largely favourable to Conservative talking points, given that the presidents of the Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge chambers are staunchly partisan Conservatives even though they pretend not to be).

I mostly focused on Kitchener-Centre (my current riding), Waterloo (which is practically my riding), and Kitchener-Conestoga (where Bob Jonkman is running for the Greens).

If there is one thing that stood out for me during this election, it is how packed the all-candidates meetings were. The debate I attended at CIGI almost filled the lecture hall (which can hold well over 100 people, and maybe over 200). Even the debates Fair Vote Canada held (all of which the Conservatives boycotted) had attendances approaching 100 people. Furthermore, I do not think these all-candidates meetings were stuffed with partisan supporters, because very few of them allowed audience questions (probably because when audience questions are allowed they are stuffed with partisan supporters...) . My guess is that a lot of people were struggling with vote-splitting, which makes it even more unfortunate that nobody will hear about (and thus will not attend) my talk.

Kitchener Centre

I could only stomach about 10 minutes of the Chamber of Commerce debate at City Hall (and it was unhelpfully held while I was at work), but that was enough.

Politically, I am no fan of Conservative Stephen Woodworth. But as I have written earlier I respect him personally. He can argue beyond talking points when he is allowed to, and he shows up for things more than he strictly has to. He also has incumbent advantage, and it shows.

Locally, his closest challenger is probably Liberal Raj Saini. Saini came closest to challenging Woodworth on issues (in particular on pharmacare and health care), and even though he was wrong about things he articulated himself well. Like everybody else in this sad election, he mostly spoke off of talking points except when talking about topics close to his heart (namely, pharmacare). I consider the fact that he is a pharmacist to be a positive, even if he (like poor Eric Hoskins) is corrupted into being a politician while in office.

I really wanted to like NDP candidate Susan Cadell, but I didn't. She is a social worker who deals with end of life issues. Like Saini, when speaking about issues close to her heart she was articulate, but she was much more raw at other times, and could not move beyond her talking points. I do not expect candidates to know everything about everything, but I do want them to be thoughtful in considering issues they are unfamiliar with.

Nicholas Wendler of the Greens was a huge disappointment. Apparently he stopped going to all-candidates meetings, which looks bad on him and looks worse for the credibility of the Green Party. I know Wendler a little bit outside of politics, and he is a nice guy, but if he was not prepared to represent his riding in all-candidates meetings then he should not have sought out the nomination. I reserve some sympathy for the personal toll that campaigning takes on people (elections drive me crazy, after all, and my social anxiety pretty much rules me out as a candidate for anything) but it is not as if the duties involved in running for office are all that secret.

There are a lot of other smaller-party candidates running in this riding. Julian Ichim is running for the Marxist-Leninists, and the infamous Slavko Miladinovic (who ran for Kitchener Mayor, and also never showed up for any public events) is running for the Libertarians. There are some other candidates as well. I am a terrible human being for not giving them equal time in this writeup.


I attended the Chamber of Commerce debate at CIGI, which was packed. I was expecting this riding to be a trainwreck, because I thought all four candidates were strong enough to be credible. I was not entirely wrong about this, but I was not entirely correct either.

If there is anything that disappointed me about this debate, it is that Peter Braid came across so well. The debate suited his style well (the topics largely matched his talking points), and he does have seven years of experience as an MP, but I did not think he would come across so well. He has been weak in previous debates, and he is especially weak when people knock him off his talking points. Except for one exchange between him and Diane Freeman, nobody did. Everybody was too interested in reading their own talking points from their binders.

That brings me to Bardish Chagger, whom I also know a little outside the context of this election. Chagger worked for Andrew Telegdi when he was an MP. She knows how politics works. I was expecting her to be much stronger in this debate than she was. She stuck to her talking points (at one point she even deferred on answering a question until she looked up the answer in her binder) and did not do a good job of challenging Peter Braid on his half-truths at all. When asked some question about homeowners using more of their RRSPs to finance house purchases (a question sponsored by a homebuilder's association, natch) she gave the usual newbie answer of "I'll get back to you" instead of thinking the question through. (Hint: any policy change made by a lobby group is primarily intended to benefit that lobby group.) I think she is a people person who is pretty good one on one, and if she wins the riding I do not think she will be awful, but nonetheless I was disappointed. Maybe those were just my expectations given that she beat Cathy MacLellan for the Liberal nomination, and I think MacLellan would have done a much better job of challenging Braid on his record.

Diane Freeman is a (former?) city counsellor and a (former?) engineer. She was not bad, but like the others stuck to her talking points way too much. That was a real disappointment, because as a city counsellor she knows issues and can speak articulately about them. She demonstrated some of that insight in a few exchanges with Braid, but overall she did not shine.

Richard Walsh of the Greens is an interesting candidate. He has run for the NDP and as an independent in the past, and his previous campaigning experience shows. He knows how to get a quip in, and how to play to an audience. But even he did not challenge Braid much on his record, which really surprised me because his party leader is all about challenging Harper. Walsh talked a lot about Guaranteed Livable Income, to the point where I think the audience got sick of it. Overall, he held his own, and he did get some of the best lines in of the event, but I wish he had been more insightful in terms of policy. The Green Party is at its best when it challenges the narratives of the existing parties and calls them out on the elephants in the collective room. Sometimes Walsh challenged narratives, but he did not identify that many elephants.

I was actively disappointed that all the candidates depended on their talking points so heavily. Their responses were scripted straight out of party headquarters. It further reveals the lies behind our first-past-the-post voting system: we are supposed to be voting for individual candidates (not for parties and not for party leaders) but the things that candidates can say are so tightly controlled that they are little more than mouthpieces. That was true for all of the ridings I looked at (and for the leaders themselves, come to think about it), but I found myself deeply disappointed that this set of candidates played along, because they all have brains of their owns and enough political experience to speak more insightfully than their talking points would suggest.


I did not go to any all-candidates meetings in person for this riding, but I downloaded some audio events (one CBC piece, and the Chamber of Commerce debate). I think most people have given up on anybody but Conservative Harold Albrecht taking the riding. Like Elizabeth Witmer from the old Kitchener-Waterloo riding, I get the sense that a lot of people like Albrecht personally, and thus will return him to office regardless of what the nation as a whole thinks. (I could be very wrong about this, especially given the Anybody But Harper crowd.)

Liberal Tim Louis is a jazz musician from Kitchener. As with the other Liberal candidates, he stuck to his talking points. He demonstrated some insight via anecdotes, but overall was very much a newbie candidate. Maybe it is confirmation bias, but there is something about both Louis and Chagger that remind me of Justin Trudeau. Maybe it is the youthful demeanor?

I think James Villeneuve of the NDP was also very much a newbie, even though as a union leader I expected him to be more polished than he was. He was not actively bad, but did not go very far in challenging Albrecht either, and could not get much beyond his talking points.

I cannot give an objective evaluation of Green Party candidate Bob Jonkman. He is a former coworker, and we associate both personally and via volunteer activities. According to him, it is my fault that he is running for the Greens, because I originally got him interested in politics via Fair Vote Canada. I was surprised when he chose to run, because I thought he would be too contrarian to play the politician role well. But he held his own during these two debates. He was well-spoken, articulated the Green platform adequately, and occasionally went beyond the talking points to talk about local concerns. In my experience he did not outshine the others, however.

Federal Leaders

I listened to the audio of a few of the leader debates. Mostly they made me mad.

If there was a theme to this election, it was Stephen Harper. Even the Conservatives acknowledged that he was not popular; ads later in the campaign stated that we should re-elect Harper even though he (and his government) was not perfect. This is a grave understatement. It is one thing to disagree with policy positions that a party makes. It is quite another to undermine democracy and undermine basic institutions like Elections Canada and the census. I am really mad about the robocall scandal. In my mind these are not legitimate policy decisions, because they undermine the institutions we use to determine good policy. One could argue that muzzling government scientists because they are employees of the state is a legitimate political position, but this makes me furious too -- in my opinion it is the job of scientists to learn things about the world and then convey those things to the rest of us. I am also plenty mad about how the Conservatives twist data and confabulate arguments to advance their political agenda (which, as far as I can tell, is "hold on to power at any cost").

So there is lots to be mad about when talking about the Conservatives and Stephen Harper. But there is no question that he is a tactical genius, and that he frames things to suit him well. He is also an effective public speaker, and in the debates I listened to he sounded like a reasonable human being and an effective leader. In some sense that makes me even more mad, because without the context of all the other things his government has done people will be tempted to vote for his government.

I am not nearly as enamoured of Justin Trudeau as the rest of the country has been. He tried to avoid using his father's reputation to boost his personal popularity, and then he went ahead and did just that in the Munk debate. He also repeated his talking points ad-nauseum, and although I agree with some of those talking points I was mad that he kept repeating them.

In my opinion Thomas Mulcair engineered his own demise. He should have been the clear alternative to Stephen Harper. He is sharp and well-spoken. He understands policy and has worked in government. But in my experience he shot himself in the foot several times over. Firstly, he came across as a bully, picking on Justin Trudeau incessantly. The fact that Trudeau was able to stand up to Mulcair's barbs probably backfired against Mulcair. I do not know whether Mulcair is actually a bully or not, but he certainly chose this strategy consciously.

Secondly, the Anybody But Harper crowd was looking for an alternative to Stephen Harper, and time and time again Mulcair and the NDP took actions that made them look like Harper Lite. The NDP excercised strict party discipline in its voting. Like Harper, Mulcair started the campaign refusing to answer questions. More importantly, he allowed Harper to frame the national debate by only agreeing to debates where Stephen Harper would be present. In so doing he allowed the Conservatives to pick events that would make them look good, and he demonstrated that the NDP is willing to play the same kind of cynical manipulative games that makes us unhappy with the Conservatives. Honestly I think Mulcair would make a more capable prime minister than Trudeau, but Mulcair did himself no favours.

Overall, I am pretty upset that during the debates Mulcair and Trudeau spent so much energy attacking each other rather than focusing on Harper.

It is no secret that I am a Green Party refugee, and that I first got involved with Fair Vote Canada because I was mad at not getting any Green MPs elected. It also does not come as much of a surprise that I admire Elizabeth May quite a bit. To the degree she could, she tried to play the role of identifying elephants and reframing debates. Clearly she knows her stuff politically, and I wish it was feasible for her to become Prime Minister. But thanks to the Globe and Mail and the Munk School, she was locked out of the national conversation, and the Anybody But Harper crowd abandoned the Greens in an attempt to flock to the NDP and Liberals.

Even though I admire May I am also mad at her for pretending that a vote for the Green Party is not a "wasted vote". For years we have defined wasted votes as "votes that do not help anybody get elected", and by that definition almost all Green votes will be wasted. There are good reasons to vote for the Green Party even if they do not get elected (namely, having a fourth political party keeps the other parties more honest) but the Green Party is cynically grasping for political power just like all of the other parties.

I am also deeply concerned that the Green Party is dominated by Elizabeth May. The Greens cannot survive as a one-woman party, no matter how capable that woman is. If the Green Party only manages to win one seat in the next election, things will be very bad for the Greens. If May cannot keep her own seat then things will be catastrophic.


I listened to some infuriating CANADALAND COMMONS podcast about voting and "women's issues". It was infuriating because one of the guests said she was not voting because political activism was more effective, and that voting would indicate that she supported the system. Thus as a poor woman she would not be voting.

I have nearly no sympathy for this argument. It is true that there is a small fraction of people for whom voting is a great inconvenience. Most voters are capable of jumping through the hoops required to cast a ballot.

As always, I believe declining one's vote is a legitimate form of political protest. I do not believe staying home (and announcing this intention in advance!) is helpful at all.

It is absolutely true that most of us will cast ballots that will help elect nobody. I believe this is a failing that should be changed. However, this does not negate the utility of threatening to vote. If political parties know you (and your demographic in particular) are going to vote then they will not attempt to target policy to appeal to you. If they think that you can help get them elected (or they are worried you will help their opponents get elected) then they will shift their discourse (and sometimes even their policies) to cater to what you want to hear.

It is true that parties cannot be held to account for their political promises, and that they have a nasty habit of saying things that placate us and then taking actions that violate what they have said. But if we are not even on the radar then the chances of getting policies implemented that work in our favour are much much lower.

If you believe that the policies governments take are irrelevant to your interests, then boycotting elections and not threatening to vote might be a legitimate political position. Nobody believes this, especially the social activists who are so loudly and proudly not voting this election.

I personally am unhappy with all of the party leaders. I know that by casting a vote for a local candidate I am in some way casting a ballot for a party leader I do not like. I am acutely aware the democracy is broken in many many ways. It still works to my benefit to participate in the system rather than to boycott it.

Anybody But Harper

Here's the problem with the Anybody But Harper movement: it treats all alternatives to Harper as equivalent. I understand the frustrations felt by the Anybody But Harper crowd, and democracy is failing at its basic job of using elections to "kick the rascals out" (thanks, vote-splitting!). But a government led by Mulcair is going to look significantly different than a government led by Trudeau, which would be significantly different than a government led by May.

Maybe we will get lucky and get Anybody But Harper. But we should be careful what we wish for.

My Preferred Outcome

I think my preferred outcome is a minority government not led by Stephen Harper. My hope is that we will get good representation for the climate change negotiations in Paris (thanks, Green Party talking points!), and that a minority government might get us closer to electoral reform (with the caveat that pursuing electoral reform in this context could backfire badly).

Despite the current polling, I think we could wake up on Tuesday to find ourselves living with a Conservative minority or majority government. I will be pretty upset with that outcome, but I am pretty sure I am going to be unhappy no matter what.