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Yes, the rumours are true — there is an election - Editorial

GEORGE BROWN/Off the Record

We’re into the third week of a five-week election campaign — do you know where your candidates are?

Better yet, do you know who they are?

We have had no election advertising in the newspaper to date. The sacrificial lambs for the Also Ran Party aren’t spending yet and the Conservatives are probably too busy trying to circumvent campaign in and out spending rules to have a local advertising strategy.

Makes you wonder where that $2 per vote subsidy is being spent.

There has been very little signage erected in the riding, odd, considering most of it could be recycled from the last campaign, or the one before that, or the one before that. Four federal elections in seven years.

Typically, Alberta is a land taken for granted by federal party machinery — the governing Conservatives don’t want to lose votes by having their candidates stick a foot in their mouths so they’ve taken a deliberately low profile. The Liberals don’t stand a chance and aren’t wasting their time on a lost cause. Until Star Trek-style environmentally friendly teleportation is available for public use, the Green Party’s Elizabeth May is staying close to her adopted riding in British Columbia. The NDP stole Edmonton-Strathcona from a lazy Rahim Jaffer in the last election and the look-alike candidate the Conservatives put on this ballot isn’t likely to steal it back.

If you can believe the Twitter toots on his website, incumbent Blain Calkins is crisscrossing the Wetaskiwin riding to confirm another strong finish: “Great weekend on the campaign trail. Wetaskiwin, Ponoka and Blackfalds this weekend. Very encouraging feedback from voters.” “In Rimbey this morning, coffee time at the Grand Hotel. Common theme here is anger at opposition forcing an election.”

Admittedly, I don’t drink coffee, so my odds of running into Calkins on the campaign trail are slim, I guess. I work four blocks from Calkins’ office and I commute from the far northeast corner of the riding but I haven’t seen him yet. I have a friendly dog in my yard and a politically disinterested spouse in the house. I even shovelled a path to the sauna on the weekend in case he needs a good sweat. So there’s no reason to skip our place.

We don’t get many visitors at Halloween either.

And it seems Canadians in Rimbey and Ponoka won’t get to learn about the candidates in an election forum. While the national leaders have been concerned with May’s participation in the televised leaders’ debate later this week, as of press time, no organization has stepped forward to host a forum in the Wetaskiwin riding. It’s trade show season in central Alberta and the chambers of commerce in Ponoka, Wetaskiwin and Lacombe have been busy promoting small businesses in their communities. Understandably, none have stepped forward yet to host a forum.

As a long-time moderator of forums at all levels of government, I understand what a diversion it is for the candidates. They would be asked to take a full evening away from campaigning or a well-deserved night off from watching the Stanley Cup playoffs just to speak to a hall sparsely populated with party faithful. Their time might be better spent going door to door. I would certainly have volunteered my time to moderate a forum for any group that could muster the volunteers to organize a debate but alas I had already booked a spring vacation when the House of Commons found the Conservative government in contempt of Parliament, setting the election machinery in motion.

I was a high school student in Ontario for my first election, the spring 1979 vote that saw Joe Clark elected with a minority government. I moved to Alberta that summer and voted in the 1980 election that saw Clark defeated and Pierre Elliot Trudeau re-elected with a majority. I haven’t missed a vote at any level and I was a little perturbed with the prospect that I would be out of the province on election day. It took a little longer than expected to cast a special ballot because the one sign staff had taped to a brick wall had blown away but I eventually found Elections Canada’s cubbyhole in Lacombe, sandwiched between a dollar store and a liquor store, and did my duty.

It’s difficult to predict what the turnout will be on May 2. Talking to voters, it seems many still feel disconnected from the process and the candidates. Too much of what makes the news nationally is about the political games the parties and their leaders play. Those who don’t feel disconnected are active in the riding associations for their chosen candidates but they admit to being taken for granted, to being frustrated that federal politics is not about building a better Canada — it’s about seizing and maintaining power.

Have you noticed that the only time political parties seem to have any new ideas about improving life for Canadians is at election time?

If Canadians really need better supports for senior citizens, robust pension plans, improved municipal infrastructure, more cops to help fill bigger jails, less taxes, clean energy alternatives, mass transit subsidies, tax credits for volunteer firefighters, forgiveness for student loans, long-term affordable housing, adult fitness credits and who knows what else, shouldn’t we expect our MPs to proffer these gems throughout the parliamentary session and not just during an election campaign? These ideas are either good for Canada or they’re not. Some of these platform planks have been dusted off from previous campaigns and polished up to look like they’re new.

Not surprisingly, the Conservatives have all but ignored the reason the election was forced. Yes, that the government’s attempt at a compromise budget would not be supported by the NDP was the writing on the wall, but this government was defeated because a majority of Canada’s MPs concurred that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government was in contempt of Parliament. The opposition leaders have let this government off the ropes to this point during the campaign because they feel it’s an issue that wouldn’t matter to Canadians, that it’s easier to get us out to vote for budget goodies than against a government that has exhibited a nebulous application of parliamentary rules.

For Albertans, it’s still difficult to believe the Liberals, with their history, when they suggest a government is corrupt.

But it’s a necessary discussion these invisible candidates are not allowing Canadians to have.