The bell has rung, the gates have opened, the flag has waved, and they’re off! Four federal political parties running neck and neck towards the grand prize, a four-year mandate to govern this country we call home (well, three running neck and neck and one trailing behind in a really heartbreaking underdog story, and technically the Bloc also running but more for the sake of biting the other parties’ ankles and stirring shit up). It’s time for Canada’s longest (and most expensive) election campaign in over a century. Time for our parties’ leaders to dust off their folksy sweaters, firm up their “meeting the average voter” handshakes, and let the attack ads and photo ops fly. Feel the excitement! Feel the thrill!
I’ve never made a secret of my disdain for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government, and I simply could not suppress a cynical snort when I read our incumbent PM’s rationale for calling an election campaign so far ahead of the fixed October 19 election date:
I feel very strongly…that those campaigns need to be conducted under the rules of the law. That the money come from the parties themselves, not from government resources, parliamentary resources or taxpayer resources.
Harper was ostensibly talking about the opposition parties, however, given that his is really the only party with access to government resources for partisan advertising (which the Conservatives have continually made use of for years under the guise of keeping Canadians “informed” about government activities, like their boondoggling Economic Action Plan), he is certainly well aware that HIS party was the problem. It’s also pretty brazen to invoke the rule of law, given that members of the Conservative party have been found guilty of breaching election spending rules in 2006 and 2008, as well as committing straight-up electoral fraud in the 2011 federal election (voter suppression via the now-infamous “robocalls”). Almost everything the Conservatives have told us about what is happening in our country in the last few years and about their own actions and intentions is so blatantly and purposefully false that I’d be tempted to call it some sick kind of joke, except I’m pretty sure Stephen Harper is not in possession of a sense of humour, just as I’m sure the many Canadians whose lives are negatively affected by the Conservative’s various ill-supported policies are not feeling too hilarious right now either.
As for the claim that parties should be spending their own money on their election campaigns, that much is true, and Harper knows his party can easily outspend any of their rivals (it’s not too hard to raise donations when your supporters are typically well-to-do corporate elites; it’s a little harder when your party is trying to appeal to the working poor and struggling middle class families). Far from ensuring a fair fight, Harper’s early election call ensures he can control as many angles of the game as possible, and ensures that his party’s particular strength (garnering donations, if not actual popular support) will be a key factor in the campaign (as it stands right now, none of the opposition parties can afford to run an election campaign for this long; Harper can). Former head of Elections Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, was quick to call out Harper for “gaming the system” and for saddling the Canadian taxpayer with additional costs (a 37-day election period, the usual minimum, costs Elections Canada approximately $375 million to administer; the election campaign we are now in will last 11 weeks).
Increasing the campaign length isn’t the only trick Harper has up his sleeve. Bill C-23, the shockingly-named “Fair Elections Act”, has made it harder for thousands of Canadians to vote, and has prohibited Elections Canada from encouraging voting. Again, not a joke. The federal body responsible for administering elections in Canada is no longer allowed to encourage Canadians to vote. They can tell you where the polling stations are, they can tell you how to register as a voter in your riding, but actually saying, “Hey Canadians, please consider exercising the democratic freedom many people worldwide continue to die for and cast your ballot for your preferred candidate at the next election”? Not allowed.
So what can you do, if you don’t want the Harper Conservatives to win the next election? They have the money, they’ve controlled the message for years, and they’ve had the power to change Canadian election laws in their favour, so what can you possibly do?
For starters, you can fight their money with your money. Though the Conservatives have a bigger war chest than the other federal parties, all parties are bound by campaign spending limits. The Tories could have all the money in the world but after a certain point, they can’t do much with it during the election. This means that anything you can do to help the opposition party of your choice close the funding gap not only helps that party get their message out, but also weakens the comparative power Harper’s sizable piggy bank gives him. And every little bit, even $5 if you have it, helps. [Another nice thing about donations to political parties is that they qualify for a pretty generous tax credit–up to 75%–so a donation of $100 would usually only end up costing you $25 after you file your taxes.] You can donate to the NDP here, to the Green Party here, and to the Liberal Party here (and in case you’re wondering, yes, I listed these links in the order in which I personally like the parties).
If donating to a particular party isn’t your thing, but you do want to support a cherished political cause in its fight against the current regime, that is certainly an option. For example, if you don’t want oil tankers navigating coastal waters in BC and just want to make sure that whoever wins the election isn’t in favour of more of them, you might want to support the activities of the Dogwood Initiative. If your main concern is the Harper government’s erosion of Canadian democracy, you could consider a donation to Leadnow. The Internet has allowed concerned Canadians from coast to coast to come together in unprecedented ways. A Google search should help you find the activist community deserving of your dollars. [Note: sadly, these activist organizations usually do not qualify as registered charities for the purposes of tax credits, but you’ll probably get some good karma.]
Can’t stomach the thought of another four years of the Harper Conservatives but can’t afford to make any political donations? That’s okay too. You can fight their money with your time. Both political parties and non-party political activist groups like Leadnow rely on dedicated armies of volunteers to get the message out. Donations can buy a lot of advertising, and a lot of annoying phone calls from strangers, but there really is no replacement for people power, especially the power of local people to stand up for their own communities (remember last April when Enbridge had an unlimited budget to spend on promoting a “yes” vote in a Kitimat plebiscite on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, and the “no” side still won with 58%? People power!). No riding should ever be considered “safe” of course, but your time might be best-spent in areas that usually vote Conservative or where the current non-Conservative incumbent is not popular. If you live in a non-Conservative stronghold and you are able to travel, consider volunteering for the party at large, or for a riding association where you still have some roots or connection to the community where you’ll be canvassing (your old home town, for example).
If you have neither time nor money, fight their money with your voice. The Internet makes this ridiculously easy to do. If you have a blog, blog about the issues. If you’re on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or Tumblr, or whatever you crazy kids are into these days, share articles, share memes, share information, share your opinions. Challenge political comments you don’t agree with, politely and with facts. Read up on the issues. Get into discussions at parties. Your opinion matters. YOU are a “regular Canadian”. YOU are jointly responsible for what happens to this country, and YOU are jointly in charge.
And then of course, most importantly, fight their money with your vote, and convince others to do the same. Unlike Elections Canada, we’re allowed to encourage our fellow Canadians to exercise their democratic freedom and civic responsibility, and none of our money, time, or voices will make a difference unless Canadians register with Elections Canada and show up at the ballot box to demand change. Not sure if you’re registered to vote? You can easily check right now on the Elections Canada website.