Election campaign a sad reminder of Canada’s failure to learn from Trump or Brexit

For a nation that wets itself whenever it’s noticed by the world, Canada chose to shut the world out during the 43rd election. In what is surely a big moment in history, as Donald Trump demotes the United States to the role of head waiter to the world’s autocrats, including the thug in China who has abducted two Canadians, the leaders of Canada’s political parties instead satisfied themselves with small-ball like fitness tax credits and camping bursaries.

Even as leaders promised billions in new spending there was little talk of global trade wars and the looming recession. Even with the treatment of its Indigenous peoples having been declared “genocide” — by the prime minister no less — there was no talk of reconciling and advancing the interests of the country’s founding peoples. And even as the country threatens to fissure over energy and equalization, there was no talk of bringing us together.

Everyone was instead too busy yelling into their corners of dedicated support to notice the bigger moments passing them by.

We were treated to the sight of Justin Trudeau smacking Doug Ford and Jason Kenney for votes as if he wouldn’t have to do business with them after the election.

We saw cute and cuddly Jagmeet Singh saying he “doesn’t respect Conservatives” (he later apologized).

And we learned that Andrew Scheer signed a secret contract to out the racists in the People’s Party of Canada, something anyone with a thumb and access to the retweet function of Twitter could have done from the Conservative war room.

And what of hope? Well, it died on the vine.

Trudeau will claim the election’s narrowness and nastiness had nowt to do with him, but this campaign proved he knows how to Stephen Harper. Trudeau campaigned to a narrow subset of Canadians, threatening those to the left with the prospect of Scheer, while labelling those to the right as “alt-right” in the hopes of tarring them with brushes imported from Donald Trump’s America.

Before the writs were even issued Trudeau was attacking on gay marriage, condemning Scheer for holding the same views in 2005 that his progressive buddy Barack Obama held at the exact same time, despite the Conservative leader repeating ad nauseam that his government would not revisit the issue in the present or future. And the same went for abortion, for which the Liberals at least saved their first attack for the first week of the campaign.

The daily Liberal attacks were only halted by “Time” magazine’s surfacing of Trudeau’s rather vigorous blackface habit — another reminder this prime minister wasn’t a very serious person before he got involved in politics in his late 30s — but not before the prime minister’s moral authority — his main tool on the world stage — took another massive hit.

The entire campaign was one long and sad reminder of how nobody in Canada has absorbed the lessons of either Trump or Brexit. The answer to fear and anxiety in the citizenry isn’t to ramp up partisanship and shout down critics, it’s to listen and engage, something no leader managed to do well. As a result, whoever emerges as prime minister will now inherit a heavily salted earth on which to grow consensus, especially on climate change. They will also have a reconstituted Bloc Québécois to worry about.

No matter the exact composition of the next House of Commons, the next prime minister must get out of the bubble and stay in touch with all corners of the country, not just the bits that shout the loudest for them on Twitter.

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And the need for bubble bursting goes for the media too. This election proved social media sewers good journalism; it produces stenography and opinion as reporters stretch from 24/7/365 to 60/60/12/24/7/365 coverage. Sometimes more is truly less.

Our politics will only recover when politicians and the people around them see a forest and not just a series of inducible trees. Governing a country as broad and diverse as Canada means compromise, not endless segmentation and confrontation. After this dispiriting campaign, there will be a reward for the next person to reach across the aisle.

Andrew MacDougall is a director at Trafalgar Strategy, a U.K.-based communications consultancy and former director of communications for Stephen Harper.

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