As the election dust settles, it seems Conservatives didn’t have the time of day for Liberal-leaning Toronto ridings
There is no time when the merits and shortcomings of our democracy stand in sharper relief than during an election period. This time often brings personal insults and ever-growing ideological polarization. Yet, at a time when candidates interested in serving in the public should rally to put their strongest arguments forward, several Conservative candidates were off the radar in critical GTA ridings.
Frank Fang did not attend a meeting at Spadina-Fort York on Sept. 26. Neither did Adam Pham in High Park-Parkdale on Sept. 23 or Chani Aryeh-Bain in Eglinton-Lawrence on Sept. 25. Constituents noticed the absence of Nadirah Nazeer in Beaches-East York on Sept. 30, Barry O’Brien at Etobicoke on Oct. 2 and Helen-Claire Tingling in University-Rosedale on Oct.7. Then, Zia Choudhary didn’t show up in Toronto-Danforth on Oct. 8. You get the idea.
Meanwhile, on the back end, the Ryersonian wasn’t able to get ahold of anyone from the Conservative campaign in Toronto-Centre. Forget an interview — we weren’t even able to get a headshot or biography for our election coverage, even when we reached as far as party headquarters in Ottawa. It is the responsibility of journalists to keep the public abreast of anything they need to know to be informed citizens and voters. What happens when politicians actively avoid this crucial element of the political process during an election period? In my opinion, the deterioration of democracy.
There is one explanation for this absence of Conservative candidates: the short campaign period in Canada means candidates need to be choosy about where they spend their time based on how profitable that event will be for their vote totals.
Wendy Burton, a Ryerson political science professor, says the fact that Toronto has been a Liberal stronghold since the early ‘90s would factor into this decision. Conservative candidates don’t see a chance to win Liberal Toronto ridings, so they avoid the ridings as much as possible.
“It is unfortunate when this happens because we always get better outcomes when we have more viewpoints. Even if you know you will be a minority in the room, you can raise points and try to keep others accountable,” Burton said.
I can understand the need to prioritize. But what about the passion for spreading a political message? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to speak to the public about specific policies and goals, rather than approaching voters in a love-it-or-leave-it fashion?
“A former student of mine, Alexandra Nash, ran for the NDP in Eglinton-Lawrence. She lost but she increased her party’s share of the vote and did so on a shoe-string budget,” Burton said.
We would have a much more knowledgeable population if parties invested more into educating local voters about their policies, rather than hiding from those who disagree.
“It is also unfortunate because participation shows respect for the process and potentially provides a model of how we all should listen to one another,” Burton said. “When candidates do not participate, it sends a message that they do not feel the process is legitimate.”
Voter turnout dipped this year, dropping from 68.5 per cent in 2015 to 66 per cent this October. 2015. With the amount of mobilization we’ve seen this year, these numbers clearly don’t reflect a lack of civic engagement; they reflect a loss of faith in the election process. The last thing we need to sustain a healthy democracy is for the official Opposition to display with their actions that they don’t think our system works.
Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, a public affairs consulting firm, says that not showing up to important community events is part of Conservative strategy. Powers says events “don’t happen in ridings that aren’t winnable,” and added, “you won’t make a mistake if you don’t debate.”
The same would go for, say, getting back to student newspapers. You can’t be scrutinized if you never show your face. And let’s face it — Conservative leadership has been the target of ridicule in a largely Liberal Toronto-Centre. However, one would hope that a leading party’s duty to transparency and service for their constituents should always apply, especially in the face of discontent.