Up For Debate

It is make or break time (perhaps) for the leaders of Canada’s five national political parties. Tonight, two weeks from election day, they square off against each other in an English-language debate.

To undecided voters like myself, this is a chance to assess the leaders and their policies. How do they square up against each other? Can they articulate their party platforms? Do those prospective policies make sense? What do they see as the important issues for Canadians?

Having lived outside the country for most of the past couple of years, I don’t have the same feel for the political landscape that I used to. When friends ask for my election predictions, they have been mostly based on electoral history. Canadians are creatures of habit – voting patterns tend to repeat.

Going into tonight’s debate I know there is one party I cannot support. But how to choose among the others?

As a fiscal conservative, I am not thrilled that all parties plan to run budget deficits. I know interest rates are low, but government borrowing must be paid back. And that usually happens over a long period. If today’s deficit were to be repaid next year I might be convinced of its wisdom. But who knows what the interest rates will be like 25 years from now? Voting for a deficit budget is going into debt and expecting my children to pay it back. That doesn’t strike me as fair.

I have met three of the leaders who will be on stage tonight. I have been a volunteer on campaigns for the other two parties, though not in this election. I have only met one of my local candidates – and him I will not vote for. (And yes, I know there will be a sixth leader on stage for the debate. I am ignoring the Bloc Quebecois, as they are only running candidates in Quebec.)

In terms of platforms, I am more likely to align myself with fiscal conservatism – but given the deficit madness that seems to have sprung up, maybe for me it will come down to the local candidate. Which means sometime in the next couple of weeks I’m going to have to make sure I meet those people. I have looked at the Elections Canada website, so I know we have a couple of independent candidates and a Communist Party representative running for office, as well as the five other parties. Deciding who to support might be difficult.

Or maybe, as I watch the debate tonight, one leader will stand out as the person most deserving of my support. That would be something new. The whole point in a nationally televised debate is to avoid making mistakes and not embarrass oneself. Scoring points against the opposition is secondary. Actually talking about the issues and expressing policy positions is so far down the list it might as well not happen.

Maybe that is why it is so hard at this point to make any accurate prediction about the outcome of the election. None of the parties and none of the leaders has managed to impress.

It would be very easy to fall into the trap of voting against someone or some policy I don’t like. I’m not sure that is a positive thing though.

I’m hoping therefore that either tonight or sometime in the next couple of weeks, I can find a reason to vote for someone.

What about you? How do you approach an election? How do you decide who to vote for?

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