A happy 2013! Rounding out the holiday season, the new year is a symbol as well as celebration of transition. We look back on the previous year, noting accomplishments, challenges and events, take stock of what still needs to be done and look forward to making it happen in the new year, often with a resolution.
My brother, a personal fitness trainer in Edmonton, reminds me that the most popular resolution is to get in shape and lose weight. After all the locally made chocolates I ate this December, he can add me to the get-back-into-shape crowd, but with few additions.
Most notably, with an election coming up this spring, my BC NDP colleagues and I have resolved to run a positive campaign.
Often elections, especially competitive ones like those in B.C., result in a litany of personal attack ads. We’ve all seen them: the red and black background, sinister music, terrible photos of the opponent mixed with accusations and character assassination. Nothing about policy, ideas, vision or issues.
So if these ads aren’t about laying out a party’s platform to convince you they have the right agenda, what are they about? Some say they are about making the other team look bad in efforts to make their team look good. Experts on voter behaviour and communications, however, will go further. They say these ads are about voter suppression.
That’s right, personal attacks can also be used to turn people, particularly young voters and women, off of the whole political process, resulting in reduced voter turnout. If you’re feeling that you just don’t like politics, that you don’t know the candidates and parties’ positions and don’t care after two or more months of those ads, you’re not alone, and the ads have done their job.
Now this isn’t to say that debate and criticism are a problem. Indeed, democracy cannot exist without debate and critical analysis. But the way in which it occurs at election time is something we need to consider and act upon for the health of our democracy.
In doing this, BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix has been getting his team to focus on being kind to our opponents while holding them accountable for their choices and proposing a pragmatic platform. Whether it is him, Christy Clark, Jane Sterk, John Cummins or any other candidate this election, we all step forward to serve our communities through the democratic process and we need to be respectful of each other for doing it.
So our resolution is to be strong on the issues and respectful of the people. No personal attacks, no character assassination, no sinister music. Just ideas, accountability and debate.
That’s not to say those ads won’t exist in the election. The Liberals have already started them, attacking John Cummins, using double-entendres with Adrian’s last name and going back to a decade when one third of voters (including me) were still in grade school. Meanwhile, they use $15 million of your tax dollars on self-promoting ads.
Nevertheless, we’re not going there. Voter suppression isn’t good, especially when it turns off a whole generation of voters craving to hear about issues and understand the political process. Debate is imperative for you to make a choice when casting your ballot, and for you to hear it, politicians need to start taking out the noise.
Here’s to a great 2013 for all, and achieving our new year’s resolutions.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for advanced education, youth and labour market development.