EDITORIAL

Why we don’t believe voters will be sidetracked by all that phony talk about “issues”

June 1 1968
EDITORIAL

Why we don’t believe voters will be sidetracked by all that phony talk about “issues”

June 1 1968

Why we don’t believe voters will be sidetracked by all that phony talk about “issues”

EDITORIAL

ALL THE POLITICAL PARTIES are piously declaring that they want this election campaign to be fought on issues, not on personalities. But when they try to define the “issues” the results are semantically curious.

Where is the “issue” in unemployment, when everyone is against it? Nobody calls for a truce in the war on poverty, or campaigns in favor of regional disparities. Everybody wants national unity, and the prime minister’s hope for a “just society” is not being countered by any demands for an unjust one. Insofar as these are “issues” at all, they are merely variants on the basic issue of competence: which party or which leader is best equipped to attain the goals for which all of them are aiming?

It is in means, not ends, that the true issues emerge, and several have already been defined. One is the guaranteed annual income. Mr. Stanfield has declared in favor of it, while warning that it “can only be accomplished as our economy expands to meet the challenge.” Mr. Trudeau, before he became prime minister, dismissed the guaranteed minimum income as theoretically attractive but too simple, too broad and too blunt an instrument to deal with the complex problems of poverty and economic disadvantage.

Another difference, less clear-cut but still discernible, is on the relations between Ottawa and the provinces, particularly Quebec. Mr. Trudeau has come out flatly against the “two nations” theory and in favor of a Canada in all parts of which the two major cultural communities shall be made equally at home; he is against the “little empires” of provincial politicians, and against a “special status” that would, in his view, enclose Quebec in a provincial ghetto, and actually diminish the status of French-speaking Canadians on the national plane.

Mr. Stanfield has not taken the opposite of any of these positions, but in general he has taken a softer line. The most recent example was his expressed opinion that the Liberal government, under both Pearson and Trudeau, made too much fuss about the “Gabon affair” — the presence of Quebec among sovereign ex-colonies of France at education conferences in Libreville and in Paris. Mr. Trudeau takes this matter very seriously; Mr. Stanfield apparently does not.

But are these “issues” really the index on which Canadians should base their decision on June 25?

Frankly, we doubt it. Certainly there would be considerable difference between a Stanfield and a Trudeau administration, but we don’t believe this difference is accurately predictable from campaign speeches, or from either man’s intentions however sincere.

We suspect that the average voter will make his choice not on the “issues” at all, but on the much-deplored basis of “personalities” — not on what the aspirants say they will do, but on his own appraisal of what kind of men they are. And, though it may be heresy to say so, we think that in this respect the average voter is right.