Recently I heard both Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper say, “this election isn’t about me, it’s about you.” This reminds me of the maxim that when someone says it isn’t about the money what he or she really means is it’s entirely about the money. I think the maxim applies to this election for two important reasons.
First, the modern position of prime minister has become immensely powerful in the Government of Canada, especially in a majority government. The PM is no longer a first among equals. In addition to the power of appointments, the PM and the PMO totally dominate Cabinet. Stephen Harper has pushed this trend even further, with his tendency to micro-manage departmental decisions (something leaked documents are giving glimpses of) and his office’s communications operation tightly controlling what ministers say. If the office is so powerful, then it should not be surprising in the least for voters to want to assess not only the policy preferences but also the character of the three individuals (or recent polls tell us more likely two) who now aspire to that job.
The second point concerns the narratives embodied in political campaigning. Campaign narratives need a protagonist. Making a party the protagonist is too abstract. Party leaders become the protagonists. My casual empiricism (which I intend to explore in a more rigorous way when the campaign is over) suggests that a leader is present in every campaign advertisement, whether it is supportive or attack. The leader has become the face of the party.
Seen as a contest of leaders, for me the choice is clear, and has become increasingly so during the election campaign. It is a choice between Trudeau’s politics of hope, openness, and respect and Harper’s politics of fear, greed, and divisiveness. Trudeau has amply proven he is ready and is willing to do politics – and government – differently. He has my vote (delivered in the name of Rob Oliphant, the Liberal candidate in Don Valley West at yesterday’s advance poll).