Well someone has to lose. At all levels, federal, provincial and municipal in Canada, elections are typically designed to identify one winner, and the rest, well, losers. We all hate that word, especially since Donald Trump made it the symbol of his life ontology and political strategy. In our first-past-the-post electoral system, and even in those enlightened places in the world where proportional representation works very well thanks, on the day after the election there are folks who must mend their wounds, put their hopes on pause, collect the signs on lawns and from the roadsides. Campaign organizers must tally up the books and submit reports and tax receipts, thank volunteers, tidy up the war-room, and go back to a before life.
In much smaller ways and in less significant places, I have lost elections, or nominations, or seen hoped-for opportunities disappear. I don’t like it one bit; I fight hard not to take the loss personally or to let the disappointment become an enduring negative personal assessment. The stakes for candidates in our recent federal election are so much greater than my own miseries. How much of their own money was invested in their political bid? How much time has been taken from family and friends? How many friendships and working relationships have been stressed, or possibly enriched. You discover your real friends and colleagues when under public social pressure.
Most candidates say they are not in these contests simply to win; but to be frank, the aim is to win! Prime Minister Trudeau won despite failing to obtain a majority. He wanted a majority, so he didn’t have to negotiate, debate, bargain, or change course in a number of important conversations including daycare, climate change response and reconciliation. (We won’t talk about the TMX right now.) Too bad, so sad; he must continue to do these very things in order to advance his and others’ hopes and dreams. That said, while his win is less than desired, he has never lost a political contest. He won federal elections in 2015, 2019 and 2021. Three back-to-back, an impressive record.
Columnist Chantel Hebert of the Toronto Star summed up things brilliantly on election night. No one of the party leaders got what they wanted. Really? Yes, really! There were some pleasant surprises at the riding level, but essentially the same parliament will be returned to form the next Parliament. So if disappointment is a real possibility for the majority of candidates, why do people run for public office?
For some, it’s a competitive game. Sociopaths line up here; fill your boots, and as Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride, prepare for disappointment. Most will lose. Supporting a local environmental debate I asked a colleague “why do independents run?” Her answer was “to fill up space in debates?” Possibly, but I sense that such persons, knowing full well their long-shot chance at gaining office, simply want to say what others refuse to, or are unable to say. From where I sit, many candidates run to make some sort of positive difference in our common life together. Indeed, the notions of common and individual life, rights and responsibilities became an issue in our recent national struggle; these are likely to remain contentious going forward.
I want to express my personal thanks to all candidates, to their teams and supporters for participating in our national electoral process, flawed though it is. What we enjoy democratically in Canada is but a dream in so many places in today’s world. Burma/Myanmar; China? Russia? Numerous African states. The sacrifice of time, energy, vulnerability, money and reputation is huge. I simply could not expose myself to such scrutiny and increasingly in recent times, abuse, especially for female candidates. The sacrifice however is still necessary. It was Churchill who opined during the London Blitz that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all others.”
So what is the profile of the ideal candidate for today’s politics? I simply cannot say. Communications, political strategies, the use and abuse of power are each flowing out in all directions presently and confusingly. While a music student in London in the days prior to the 1979 election of Margaret Thatcher, I used to lie in bed listening late night to the BBC re-broadcast of the House of Commons Prime Minister’s question period. The oratory of PM Jim Callaghan, through his powerful use of imagery, story, threat and appeal was mesmerizing.
In his train follow Canadians such at Stephen Lewis. A personal hero (I have encountered him live a number of times) Lewis is a brilliant Oxford Union debater who in his tribute to the late Jack Layton used the word “vituperative.” Anyone who can get away with that is good with me. Here is more vintage Lewis, admittedly in an age which values less logical exposition in favour of visual memes, emotive soundbites and at times a rather superficial style of engagement. Still, I love the sense, style and sound of a well-reasoned argument.
Somewhere in my soul I cherish
the possibility of a return to a vibrant democracy,
where policy is debated rather than demeaned,
where the great issues of the day
are given thoughtful consideration,
where Canada’s position on the world stage
is seen as principled and laudatory,
where human rights for all
is the emblem of a decent society.
May it be so, now and always.