They’re digging deep in limited light and arduous working conditions, looking for thick new seams a decade down or more, searching for stank they can throw and that they hope will stick.
“Look! A candidate has shown a spark of personality! They appear to have come up with a scintilla of independent thought! Get the crap-tapult!”
This past Thursday, the federal Liberals released their latest press release attack on NDP leader Thomas Mulcair: “Thomas Mulcair talks down the Energy East Pipeline when speaking in Quebec, but he told an exclusive group of Americans in 2013 that moving oil from west to east via pipeline is his ‘priority.’”
The Liberals admit they have a policy of digging for dirt, saying about the latest release that, “The video is the latest in a series of videos released during this campaign that show Mulcair bashed unions, praised Margaret Thatcher, railed against Quebec’s universal child care system, and advocated for the privatization and mass export of Canada’s fresh water resources.” (And no doubt drowned puppies and bit babies’ noses, too.)
It’s not only videos.
When Mulcair was coming to Newfoundland, the Liberals released a statement complaining that he used “Newfie” in the Quebec legislature when he was in a different role political eons ago. Mulcair apologized. The next day, in P.E.I., a different Liberal candidate was attacking Mulcair again, this time for something Mulcair said in 2004 about targets for greenhouse gas emissions: “How can he find problematic the fact that we have not yet signed an agreement? Because it seems that we should be on the same page as Prince Edward Island? Who cares?” Mulcair said on June 2, 2004.
I’ve singled out the Liberals here, but they’re far from alone. Every federal party seems willing to play “Gotcha,” looking for far-distant past statements to hang on their opponents like Christmas bulbs on a tree.
Digging up dirt on how candidates have changed their positions over the years seems to be the soup of the day right now, right up there with mining social media for whatever any candidate might have blurted out when they were young, angry or three beers in.
But pointing out that a candidate might have changed their mind seems like a stupid mode of attack, especially when that attack sentence or word is taken completely out of the context where it was first said.
Fact is, I’d prefer candidates from all parties to have ideas: good ideas, original ideas, even stupid ideas, but their own ideas. And I’d like them to be intellectually nimble enough able to change their position when circumstances change, or listen to what their constituents (i.e. their employers) have to say, if and when those constituents make a cogent and persuasive argument. Even more than that, when they do change their minds, I’d like my chosen candidate to have the confidence and the nerve to speak up even if their own opinion differs from that of the party as a whole. Because my MP should work for me — I even take part in paying them. They don’t work for their party, no matter how the parties would like to pretend that they do.
Marching in permanent lock-step with the leader and with inalterable positions handed down from the past doesn’t actually serve the electorate.
Do you want to elect a candidate whose mind can never be changed? Is that the gold standard we’re looking for? Someone whose mind is firmly made up regardless of the demonstrable facts?
If I wanted a candidate with no opinions, with no personality, someone who had never made a colourful statement or thought an original thought, the person who can be counted on to bang on their parliamentary desk and never rock the governing boat, I’d invent a parliamentary robot. It would be easy: forget artificial intelligence.
It could get by with good old artificial ignorance.
Oh, and to those who spend their days moiling for dung?
Mine enough crap, and you’ll find yourself hopelessly covered with the stuff.
Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org a