Two weeks can be both an eternity and the blink of an eye.
A just-completed 14-day vacation seemed to whiz by in a blur, and yet a return to work reveals a newsroom immersed in coverage of a federal election that was only a persistent rumour when we last hit the keyboard.
One might have thought, given the urgency of issues like an on-going pandemic, climate change and restoration of a COVID-devastated economy to name a few, that politicians of all stripes would be busy making their case for our votes in serious and solemn fashion, with a focus on policy and platforms and media attention locked in on the major issues.
In reality, it seems, we are being drawn into the usual game of gotcha, as major party campaigners work harder to disseminate dirt than inform the electorate.
Following a rocky start to the campaign, no doubt complicated by the need to explain why they are on the hustings in the first place, the governing Liberals released, via Twitter, a video purporting to illustrate Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s plans to allow an increase in private sector involvement in health care.
Despite the fact the selected video excerpt shows O’Toole explaining exactly why he thinks that’s a good idea, it somehow received a “manipulated media” designation from Twitter and prompted cries for an investigation by the election commissioner from the Tory team.
To be sure, one version of the video was edited to leave out important context that O’Toole also stated universal access to healthcare “remains paramount,” but the full video did run as part of the tweet thread so, the information was all there for those that elected to pursue it.
The Conservative outrage over the “manipulated” video might seem justified until you acknowledge the pervasive use of “excerpts” to prove points in all manner of political discourse.
The current scenario is hard to differentiate from Conservative’s extensive dissemination of Justin Trudeau’s infamous “the budget will balance itself” quote from 2014. The five words, a four-second snippet from a four-minute interview, were selected to portray Trudeau as a fiscal newb with no business playing in the big leagues. However, in context, Trudeau’s full answer to the question he was posed was much more nuanced.
Trudeau was asked how committed he would be to balancing the budget under the economic conditions in effect at the time.
“The commitment needs to be a commitment to grow the economy and the budget will balance itself,” was Trudeau’s full response. The suggestion that as the economy grows balanced budgets are more likely would probably not be disputed by many legitimate economists. More growth means more jobs, more tax revenues and probably less spending pressure on social programs.
But hand that quote to some partisan tacticians with access to video editing equipment and, presto, a meme that just keeps on giving.
The current phase of the campaign, with candidates racing cross country seeking face time (hopefully masked) with voters and video advertisements being rolled out will likely feature more partisan mischief (Willy Wonka anyone?) than policy news and we will all benefit from some healthy scepticism about both accusations and promises.
The saving grace of Canadian campaigns are the televised debates, where national party leaders have to stand and deliver answers posed by journalists, and sometimes citizens, without benefit of a script, and the local all-candidate forums where voters can take measure of riding candidates in person.
The substance is coming, to some degree at least. In the meantime we’re left to take in the show.