Times in Trail

Times in Trail: The disturbing demise of democracy

"When did election campaigning become about restricting questions, avoiding debates ... telling voters why their opponents are worse?"

I’ve read a few stories likening the current federal campaign to a job interview. But I wonder if that’s really a good comparison.

Would you hire someone who’s best response is, ‘the other guy is worse than me?”

Or would you hire someone who will only answer a couple of your questions?

Or would you hire someone who wants to decide who asks the questions during the interview?

It’s all head-scratching stuff for people who want to hear about issues or policies or even ask a simple question to the person who wants to lead the entire country.

But that’s not how it works anymore.

When did election campaigning become about restricting questions, avoiding debates and generally telling voters why their opponents are worse than them?

I often cringe at the thought of our political system morphing into the same style as our American neighbours – attack ads, political action committees, incendiary rhetoric and billions spent on campaigning.

But on the other hand, I look across the border with envy at how, at least during election campaigns, which are never-ending in the U.S. – the voter really does hold the power.

Candidates trip over each other to get to every country fair, corn roast and barbecue to shake every hand across the country.

Candidates who refuse to answer a basic question are grilled by the media, vilified by the public and basically fall off the map of potential presidential hopefuls.

Candidates clamour for the opportunity to appear on TV and debate, talk, dance or whatever it takes to get the voters to see them in action.

And those who shun the public spotlight are doomed to remain in the shadows of other candidates more willing to speak up.

This is what I thought democracy should look like, albeit in a more toned-down Canadian manner.

The candidates get out and meet the public, answer the questions and share their ideas.

Unfortunately that’s not the status of democracy in Canada.

Here there is no uproar over restricted access to the prime minister’s speeches even if it involves spending taxpayers’ money.

There’s no outrage that the press is limited to a handful of questions before the candidate decides that’s enough and won’t answer anymore.

Reports from major newspapers in Canada show the trend right across the country with politicians dictating who, when and how much they will talk to people.

Stephen Harper’s recent stop in Campbell River, chronicled by reporter J.R. Rardon, spoke volumes of the state of campaigning in Canada.

Here the elected Prime Minister visited a small community. It wasn’t designed to meet the public; it wasn’t designed to show he cared about issues in that region.

It was designed to shore up support for a Conservative candidate battling for a riding. It was all politics, pure and simple.

The local press was alerted to his “public appearance” at 6:49 a.m., two hours before Harper was to speak.

It’s akin to being told by a teacher at 6 a.m. that the final exam will be in a couple of hours. Or getting a call from your boss at 4 a.m. that suddenly your shift will begin at 6 a.m. that day and don’t be late.

There’s no reason, in our connected political world filled with armies of communication people, that such an announcement would be released at that time unless it was designed to limit access and awareness of his appearance.

Sadly, that’s the only conclusion I can draw.

I was hoping the upcoming all-candidates forum hosted by the Trail Chamber of Commerce would be an open opportunity for the public to step up to the mike and interview these people seeking the job of representing us in Parliament, which, if they play their cards right, can come with a great salary and a nice cushy pension after a short term.

I was hoping for the spontaneous questions like we had during the Trail forum for the municipal election. Even though there was a media panel present armed with serious questions, the best one of the night involved doing something about the “ugly yellow blocks,” at the four-way stop in downtown Trail.

That question came from the floor and elicited the loudest applause of the night.

Unfortunately there won’t be any spontaneous questions like that from the floor in the candidates forum in Trail. All questions from the public must be submitted ahead of time.

Imagine if you went for a job interview but told the employer to send you the questions first so you could prepare your answers.

What do you think your odds are that you will get that job?

I would think slim and none but in today’s version of democracy who knows.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times.

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