Election 2000

Looking on with Cynicism

Barbara Wickens December 4 2000
Election 2000

Looking on with Cynicism

Barbara Wickens December 4 2000

Looking on with Cynicism

Election 2000

The election was fought bitterly, not only on the national stage, but at the grassroots level. Over the course of the five-week campaign, Maclean’s sampled voter opinion on key issues in five ridings: Vancouver Centre, Calgary Centre, Markham, Ont., Laval East in Quebec and Halifax. Last week, Maclean’s correspondents asked voters how they viewed the campaign itself. The answers reveal widespread cynicism.

Was there a defining moment for you during the campaign?

About a third of the respondents in the informal Maclean's survey found that nothing about Election 2000 grabbed them. “I can’t see that there was anything really extraordinary,” said sales representative Michel Martel, 54, of Laval. “We can’t say there is someone who gave us something really new, that there were new ideas or something.” Teri Lines, 27, an executive assistant to a Markham municipal councillor, wished there had been a defining moment, especially during the televised leaders’ debates. “I tried to watch as much as I could, but ended up getting more confused,” she said. “I had no epiphany of whom I want to vote for.”

Others, however, cited the debates as the events that did, in fact, help clarify their views—though not necessarily in a positive way. Vancouver actor Tony Davidson, 67, watched the Frenchlanguage debate on Nov. 8 and was not impressed by either Jean Chrétien or Stockwell Day. “The Liberal party had too many unanswered questions,” Davidson recalled. “I was probably going to vote Liberal up to that stage. I was disappointed at the same time that the Alliance leader didn’t come up to snuff because of his language problems. That was the defining moment, the stark realization of the idiots we’ve got trying to run this country.”

Fortunately for at least one politician, not everyone was turned off. “The debates changed my mind more than any-

thing,” said Arlayna Alcock, 31, an English-as-a-secondlanguage teacher in Calgary. “I really liked Joe Clark. I thought he was aggressive and defended himself very well.”

What could be done to get more voters to pay greater attention during the election campaign?

Polls show that only about half of Canadians followed the election campaign. That comes as no surprise to many Macleans respondents, who say politicians have no one to blame but themselves.“We are so removed from government right now that it seems irrelevant,” said Susan Chevalier, 49, who owns a consulting firm in Markham that does training and development for technology-based organizations. “People have to actually believe they can do something.”

The answer for many, then, could be summed up as “better politicians.” Retiree Leone Konings, 60, of Vancouver longs for “somebody with some integrity.” Rick Valentini, 65, a retired public health administrator in Calgary, said the politicians would do well to be more honest in their campaign promises. “They are all going to do everything—and you know that’s just not true,” he added. “If you can’t trust what’s going on out there, why would you follow it?” Pierrette Dionne, 60, a nursing supervisor in Laval, suggested politicians become better public speakers. “They must have more dazzle and verve,” she said. Some Quebecers even put a name to that better politician: Paul Martin. “If he was the Liberal leader,” said Laval bookkeeper Louise Bussière, 40, “it would have drawn more people.”

Rather than focusing on individual politicians, some respondents suggested there is much the parties could do to improve the situation. Calgary business manager Richard White, 46, said that information overload during the campaign forces some voters to tune out. Instead, the parties should cooperate in releasing their position papers simultaneously, or

picking a theme for each week of the campaign. “You wouldn’t have one party talking about health care, another about tax reform and so on,” White argued. “It would be clear and concise rather than confusing and chaotic.” Other suggestions for engaging more of the electorate focused on the system itself. “Elections Canada has to do a better job of selling the idea of living in a democracy,” said Keith Thirgood, 49, co-owner of a Markhambased marketing consultation and design firm. “People take it for granted. People don’t seem to realize that they can do a lot.” Chris Koumbis, 38, who owns a men’s hair salon in Vancouver, said people need to learn about democracy and the role of elections long before campaign time. “Take it to the schooling system and teach the importance of a vote,” he said.

How would you change the campaign process to make it more

democratic or effective?

In general, the respondents wanted more substance. Some, like Anne Lorusso, 47, a Halifax mother of two, would like to see more, and more productive, debates. “And perhaps,” she added, “more candidates’ debates in the riding so it gets down to the local level.” Others said they would like more insightful campaign literature delivered to their door—or on the Internet. Campaign signs, on the other hand, came in for particular scorn. Marlene Lines, 49, an insurance adjuster for a midsize firm in Markham, called candidates’ signs “just litter.” She added: “They make that person’s name popular, but it’s only allowing the ignorant to go, ‘I recognize that name so I will vote for them.’ They should be banned.” Laval’s Bussière agreed such advertising is a waste: “I don’t think that it changes anything to see the face of a candidate on every second pole.”

Barbara Wickens

John DeMont

Brenda Branswell

Susan McClelland

Brian Bergman

Ken MacQueen